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Aaron A. Best Harrison C. and Mary L. Visscher Associate Professor of Genetics
I am interested in understanding the evolution of fundamental cellular systems and how microorganisms function at a systems level. My lab focuses on two areas that allow us to explore these questions: understanding the transcription mechanism of the protist, Giardia lamblia and comparative analyses of microbial genomes linked to wet-lab experimentation.
Students in my lab will practice bioinformatics, genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry, becoming aware of how bioinformatics is used to drive research in modern microbiology.
Unique Mechanism of Transcription in the Human Parasite, Giardia lamblia.
My wet lab uses comparative genomics to guide investigation of the basal transcription system of Giardia, using techniques of molecular biology and biochemistry. Giardia occupies an interesting evolutionary position, being the earliest diverging eukaryote known. Thus, the transcription system seen in Giardia will enlighten us as to how the fundamental process of transcription evolved in eukaryotic organisms, including humans.
Bioinformatics: Comparative Analyses of Microbial Genomes.
Perhaps no other field of scientific inquiry has been more profoundly impacted by genome sequencing than microbiology. The number of complete microbial genomes is currently over 900, and projections indicate that several thousand microbial genomes will be completed in the coming years. Thus, there is a wealth of data available to microbiologists that simply did not exist as little as 10 years ago. My lab seeks to take advantage of these data to understand microbial evolution and cellular function through comparative analyses.
As part of this work, we are collaborating with Dr. Matt DeJongh (Computer Science Department, Hope College) and Dr. Nathan Tintle (Mathematics Department, Hope College) to form an interdisciplinary bioinformatics team with the goal of developing and improving software tools necessary to access and analyze genomic data. In collaboration with Argonne National Labs, our current efforts are focused on a genome annotation suite known as the SEED. Our software enables the rapid generation of genome-scale metabolic models of microbes, allowing the prediction of organism behaviors at the whole-cell level (Systems Biology).
In addition, my lab uses techniques of comparative bioinformatics on microbial genomes to identify candidates for "missing genes" in biochemical pathways performed by microbes. These candidate genes are tested in the wet-lab, using techniques of molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry.Go to current research projects
Growing up in rural West Texas gave me the opportunity to experience the outdoors of a starkly beautiful countryside and a dark night sky that made me wonder at nature and how it works. I left Texas for Liberty, Missouri, where I majored in Biology as an undergraduate at a small private liberal arts college much like Hope College. It was here that I first experienced undergraduate research and the thrill of discovery.
I continued my journey north and east, attending graduate school in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Illinios, Urbana-Champaign, studying the evolution of unicellular organisms called Archaea through the emerging field of microbial genomics.
This work led me to study the unicellular eukaryote and human parasite Giardia, the cause of a rather unpleasant gastrointestinal disease. I obtained my Ph.D. while at Illinois and was a post-doc in the lab of Carl Woese there.
I moved to Hope College in the fall of 2004, where I began teaching microbiology and involving undergraduates in a research program focused on microbial genomics and Giardia. During my time at Hope, I have endeavored to blur the line between teaching and research, actively incorporating authentic research into the courses I teach.
I have actively participated in national efforts to promote undergraduate education and research, organizing the American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE) in 2007 and working with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance (the SEA).
Dr. Best is a member of LinkedIn and Facebook.
Please make an appointment to see me.
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