Research Profile: Christian Frech, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

May 02, 2012

Christian Frech's research has the potential to save millions of lives. This work is exactly why he left his secure job as a software engineer and IT consultant in Austria to go back to graduate school and become a bioinformatician.

He says, "My general interest is in developing and using computer programs to learn about biology. What is particularly fascinating is that with the advent of genome sequencing we can now use computer programs to better understand the genetic code of living things. I think what I am trying to do is to help fulfill the promise of comparative genomics. Millions of dollars have been spent on sequencing the genomes of many organisms and now I think we should try hard to learn as much as possible from this data to justify these investments."

His research into the genome of malaria parasites is showing dramatic promise. He explains, "What I found in my research on malaria parasites are genes that are present in the genomes of human malaria parasites but not in the genomes of non-human parasites. Our working hypothesis at this point is that some of these genes are doing something really important to make humans sick. So in a sense I computed a priority list of genes that malaria researchers around the world can now look at in more detail and work out their functions. My hope is that some of the identified genes will tell us something important about malaria parasite biology that will lead to a lifesaving vaccine."

His research is supported by a number of awards, including an NSERC Discovery Grant and the Simon Fraser University Community Trust Endowment Fund (CTEF) through the BCID Project. He's also received graduate fellowships from the university, and the BC Pacific Century, Weyerhaeuser, and Sulzer Pumps awards.

He sees a huge potential for his skills after he completes his degree, saying, "Now that genome sequencing is so cheap that even human genomes are sequenced routinely, it is tempting for me to apply what I have learnt during my PhD studies to analyze human genomes. Human genome sequencing is now more and more used in a clinical setting, and there's an increased need for bioinformaticians who can analyse patients' genomes to diagnose and treat diseases."

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