Math faculty Sebastien Roch and former Ph.D. student Kun-Chieh (Jason) Wang won Best Paper Award at the prestigious 22nd Annual International Conference on Research in Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB) 2018. Their submission "Circular Networks from Distorted Metrics’’ combines ideas from mathematical biology, combinatorial algorithms and theoretical statistics to make progress on the notoriously challenging problem of inferring phylogenetic networks from genetic data.
Trees have long been used as a representation of species relationships. However complex evolutionary events, such as genetic reassortments or hybrid speciations which occur commonly in viruses, bacteria and plants, do not fit into this elementary framework. Circular networks are one of the many possible generalizations of trees studied in evolutionary biology. Although such networks can be hard to interpret, their neat visualization and fast reconstruction have made them an exploratory tool of choice to detect network-like evolution in genomic datasets. Roch and Wang devised a new estimation method that is both fast and, in a mathematically rigorous sense, more robust to the noise intrinsic to this type of evolutionary data.
External link: https://recomb2018.fr/participants-and-awards/