Number 40, Spring 2003

Mexican student earns top honor at gathering of molecular biologists
by Iqbal Pittalwala

Computer science student Andrés Figueroa went to a conference in Germany, poster in hand and returned to UC Riverside with a new laptop.

Figueroa's poster was voted best among more than 180 presentations at Berlin’s Seventh Annual International Conference on Research in Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB).

"There were many works of high quality and excellence by researchers from different parts of the world," the 32-year-old Mexican national said. "I was surprised when I learned that my work had been chosen as the winning poster."

"Clustering binary fingerprint vectors with missing values for DNA array data analysis," co-authored by James Borneman, assistant professor of plant pathology, and Tao Jiang, professor of computer science and engineering at UC Riverside, is based on a paper they have submitted to the Journal of Computational Biology.

Figueroa earned the Best Student in 1995 award from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, where he received a bachelors in mathematics in 1998. He came to UC Riverside under a program between UC MEXUS and the Mexican national science foundation, CONACYT, which jointly fund about 100 doctoral students accepted into UC programs. Many, like Figueroa, are among the top students in their departments.

Figueroa's doctoral research focuses on designing, implementing, and developing efficient algorithms for DNA microarray data analysis. (DNA microarray is the exact-point placement of DNA samples on a minute chip.) His research may further help classify microorganisms, detect such diseases as leukemia and facilitate the discovery of new genes.

"Andres's poster describes a novel approach for the cluster analysis (grouping large sets of data) of DNA microarray," said Jiang, Figueroa's graduate adviser.

"The poster showed that our method offers better clustering than traditional methods in the classification of DNA sequences," Jiang said.

Figueroa expects to graduate from UC Riverside in 2004 and seek a faculty position in Mexico. In the meantime, the new laptop is being put to work in his research. He spends his remaining free time polishing his racquetball game. He has been the campus racquetball champion every quarter since fall 2002.

Iqbal Pittalwala, an atmospheric scientist and creative writer, is a UC Riverside comunications officer.