Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Associate Professor Michael Schatz of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) will receive a 2015 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. This prestigious research award has been issued since 1955. Schatz is one of 126 outstanding early-career scientists from the U.S. and Canada recognized by the Foundation this year. Past honorees include the famous physicist Richard Feynman and 42 others who went on to win the Nobel Prize.
Schatz is a quantitative biologist and a faculty member of CSHL’s Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. From the very start of his career he has been recognized as an innovator in cloud computing and “big data.” At CSHL, Schatz applies his quantitative insights to diverse problems, ranging from methods of assembling plant and animal genomes from raw DNA sequencing data to the analysis of large data sets generated in studies of people with diseases such as cancer and autism.
“I am extremely honored to be named a Sloan Foundation Research Fellow for the coming year,” said Schatz, who will receive $50,000 to advance his work. “In addition to the Sloan Foundation, I want to thank leadership here at the Lab, which has been incredibly supportive since the day I arrived in 2010.”
CSHL President Dr. Bruce Stillman congratulated Schatz. “The Sloan Research Fellowships specifically recognize innovative, original, high-quality work. Mike Schatz has accomplished a great deal in a short time and we look forward to seeing much more from him as his career progresses.” Last year, Schatz was recognized in an Early Career Award given by the National Science Foundation (NSF). He has also twice received the Teaching Award of the Watson School of Biological Sciences at CSHL.
Among his recent achievements, Schatz designed a software-based algorithm called SCALPEL that was successfully applied in a large-scale study of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As its name implies, the algorithm enabled a large research team to study fine “cuts” within masses of raw genome information obtained from patients and unaffected family members. SCALPEL specifically made it possible to discover the salience of a type of mutation called indels among patients. Indels are insertions or deletions of DNA—larger than single-letter substitutions, but smaller than large-scale genomic mutations, both of which had been previously shown to be overrepresented in ASD patients.
Other notable recent work by Schatz includes the invention of algorithms that greatly reduce the number of errors generated by the newest generation of genome sequencing devices. One software-based fix greatly enhanced the utility of the current industry workhorse, a large “3rd-generation” sequencing machine made by Pacific Biosciences.
Right now, Schatz is working on software for the smallest sequencing device yet produced commercially, made by Oxford Nanopore. About the size of a pack of chewing gum, this tiny device can paradoxically read much longer DNA segments than massive room-filling sequencers; but it generates more errors. “The data—which one obtains by attaching this remarkable device to a desktop or laptop computer via an ordinary USB slot, is ‘fuzzy’ due to the errors,” Schatz explains. “But that’s a great opportunity for computational work. We are writing software to sharpen the sequence output of the device. It’s analogous to the ‘sharpen’ button in Photoshop software. We believe we can effectively reduce the error rate to zero, given enough data.”
About The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economic performance. http://www.sloan.org