The biological landscape is made up of millions of variables that interact in complex and often seemingly random ways. I am applying principles from physical and computational sciences to the study of biology to find patterns in these interactions, to obtain insight into population genetics, human evolution, and diseases including cancer.
Gurinder S. “Mickey” Atwal and colleagues are applying insights from the physical and computational sciences to the study of population genetics and human disease. The Atwal lab has modeled the process by which genetic variants, or alleles, have evolved in the last 100,000 years of human history. This has recently led to surprising insights about the role of p53, a master tumor suppressor gene, in female fertility and furthered our understanding of how complex gene networks evolve. The lab has analyzed the comparative genomics and physical organization of cancerrelated genes and their role in mediating tumorigenesis across numerous tissue types. Recently, they have begun to focus efforts on understanding cancer genome evolution on shorter time scales by analyzing nucleotide sequences from single cells.
What Silicon Valley and biology research share
September 15, 2017
Base Pairs podcast In the age of big data, theoretical physicist and Associate Professor Gurinder “Mickey” Atwal recognized the need for data analysis whizzes in biology research as well as Silicon Valley. Hear more from him, and how he’s using his skills to advance cancer research, in episode 11 of Base Pairs, “Biology, behind the...
Biology, behind the screens
August 15, 2017
Base Pairs podcast The tale of many biologists is one of long hours peering through a microscope in pursuit of answers. But what if we told you that there are scientists making huge waves in the life sciences that have never professionally used a microscope? CSHL’s Mickey Atwal sits down with Base Pairs co-hosts Brian...
Math teacher wins school popularity contest (again)
June 7, 2017
Math isn’t exactly known as “everyone’s favorite subject,” yet Associate Professor Mickey Atwal has won the Watson School of Biological Science’s teaching award by popular vote for the third time this year. How does he make the math in his quantitative biology course come to life? t’s not uncommon to feel some sort of trauma associated...
A theoretical physicist’s approach to breast cancer
October 21, 2016
Ideas borrowed from physics could help scientists improve treatments for breast cancer. Associate Professor Mickey Atwal explains in this guest blog post. reast cancer is more than a group of rogue cells. They exist within an intricate battleground inside patients, which scientists call the “microenvironment.” This consists not only of the wayward tumor cells themselves but also...
WSBS Teaching Award 2016 for Mickey Atwal
May 2, 2016
Since 2005, the first-year Watson School of Biological Sciences students have selected the most outstanding teacher of the Fall Term. This most esteemed individual is honored with the Winship Herr Award for Excellence and Creativity in Teaching, named for the Watson School’s founding dean and bringing with it the weighty impact of a weighty, engraved...
Finding huge promise in a single cell with student Robert Aboukhalil
November 2, 2015
They say one is the loneliest number. But when it comes to DNA sequencing, today many scientists are appreciating the importance of assessing one cell, rather than many. Take, for instance, Robert Aboukhalil, a fourth-year Watson School of Biological Sciences student, who is using his skills as a computational biologist to find a way to...
Third-year student Abram Handly Santana explores the pancreatic tumor microenvironment
August 1, 2015
Most people don’t think about their pancreas very often. Buried deep inside the abdomen, wedged between the stomach and the spine, we can’t even feel it. But there it is, day in and day out, working away to make the enzymes that digest our food and the hormones that control our blood sugar. Having a...
CSHL receives $50 million to establish Simons Center for Quantitative Biology
July 7, 2014
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today announced a $50 million gift from Jim and Marilyn Simons to establish the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today announced a $50 million gift from Jim and Marilyn Simons to establish the Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. The Center...
Researchers propose new way to make sense of ‘Big Data’
February 15, 2014
Justin Kinney and Gurinder Atwal collaborated to show how a fundamental mathematical quantity called “mutual information” can be used to detect and quantify relationships between variables in large, noisy datasets.
Watson School of Biological Sciences graduates 10th class on 60th anniversary of double helix
April 29, 2013
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — The Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) celebrated its 10th commencement Sunday afternoon, April 28, conferring the Ph.D. degree in biology upon eight new graduates and honorary doctoral degrees on two distinguished investigators who have had major impacts in their fields. It was a day...
Atwal, G. S. and Kirchhoff, T. and Bond, E. E. and Montagna, M. and Menin, C. and Bertorelle, R. and Scaini, M. C. and Bartel, F. and Böhnke, A. and Pempe, C. and Gradhand, E. and Hauptmann, S. and Offit, K. and Levine, A. J. and Bond, G. L. (2009) Altered tumor formation and evolutionary selection of genetic variants in the human MDM4 oncogene. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 106(25) pp. 10236-10241.
Atwal, G. S. and Rabadan, R. and Lozano, G. and Strong, L. C. and Ruijs, M. W. and Schmidt, M. K. and van't Veer, L. J. and Nevanlinna, H. and Tommiska, J. and Aittomaki, K. and Bougeard, G. and Frebourg, T. and Levine, A. J. and Bond, G. L. (2008) An information-theoretic analysis of genetics, gender and age in cancer patients. PLoS ONE, 3(4) pp. e1951.
Hu, W. and Feng, Z. and Atwal, G. S. and Levine, A. J. (2008) p53: a new player in reproduction. Cell Cycle, 7(7) pp. 848-52.
Atwal, G. S. and Bond, G. L. and Metsuyanim, S. and Papa, M. and Friedman, E. and Distelman-Menachem, T. and Ben Asher, E. and Lancet, D. and Ross, D. A. and Sninsky, J. and White, T. J. and Levine, A. J. and Yarden, R. (2007) Haplotype structure and selection of the MDM2 oncogene in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 104(11) pp. 4524-9.
Slonim, N. and Atwal, G. S. and Gasper, T. and Bialek, W. (2005) Information-based clustering. Proc Nat Acad Sci (USA), 102(51) pp. 18297-18302.Additional materials of the author at
CSHL Institutional Repository