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Jin Chen to join University of Kentucky in July

Although Jin Chen thinks he has finally gotten used to the cold six years after his first Michigan winter, he is moving on to warmer pastures. Currently Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and also PRL’s resident bioinformatician, Chen will join the University of Kentucky College of Medicine – Division of Biomedical Informatics as Associate Professor on July 1st, 2016.

Chen, who was born in Liyang, a small town in the eastern part of China about three hours from Shanghai, has been quite the globetrotter throughout his career. He obtained a Bachelors in Computer Engineering from the Southeast University in Nanjing, China. At that stage, Chen was interested in artificial intelligence, a traditional topic in his field.

“But in 2003, the human genome was sequenced. It was fascinating. Now, people had a book in their hands to tell the human genetic story, but they didn’t know the meaning of each word within it.” He saw a great opportunity to use his computing skills for the advancement of science. The realization led to a five-year move to Singapore, where he earned his PhD at the National University of Singapore, one of the top three Asian schools of its kind.

He later moved to the US for his Postdoc at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University - a continuation of his work at the intersection of informatics and biology - before he joined the PRL ranks in 2009.

Jin Chen portrait
Jin Chen

The main thrust of Chen’s work at PRL has been to build a pheno-informatics program to collect, manage, organize, and analyze big data in plant biology. This tool allows researchers to dig into the vast stores of information to tease out any abnormalities related to natural variations or induced mutations in the plants, and how such abnormalities in plant phenotypes – observable characteristics of organisms resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment - might be associated with changes at the level of DNA. A lot of the effort involves cleaning unwanted noise collected by the sensors or clustering multiple kinds of phenotype data of many plant genotypes.

Chen has had to build the bioinformatics infrastructure from scratch, as the data to be scrutinized is so unique that it could not be analyzed by any other existing computational tool sets. His first framework was built within the Kramer Lab, which has been his primary source of collaboration throughout his tenure at PRL. The program is now used more widely within the MSU community due to its success.

Throughout his career, Chen has published more than 50 papers and has been awarded a National Science Foundation: Advances in Biological Informatics grant in support of his work. David Kramer, Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics, is Co-PI on the grant. 

Chen's new position will take him back in time: “My brother is a physician. Moving from here to a medical school is influenced by him because he used to tell me a lot about problems in patient phenotype data within his field.”

We wish Jin Chen much success as he moves on to the next stop in his career!

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