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Robin Dowell merges genetics and computer science to investigate transcriptional regulation. In an “antedisciplinary” approach, Dr. Dowell ignores boundaries between disciplines to follow this biological problem wherever it leads. Dowell’s background is uniquely diverse; she holds bachelor’s degrees in both genetics and computer engineering from Texas A&M University, and received an M.S. in computer science and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis. As a graduate student, Dowell developed the Distributed Annotation System, a communication protocol allowing researchers around the world to share annotations on genomic or protein sequences. This was merely the start of a career long passion for creating innovative avenues for collaboration. Her doctoral work subsequently focused on computational approaches to structural RNA. Following this, Dr. Dowell completed postdoctoral studies at MIT, where she began computational modeling of transcriptional regulation.
Dr. Dowell was recruited to the BioFrontiers Institute as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology in 2009. Her research group blends computational and experimental approaches to understand transcriptional regulatory networks. Most of the Dowell lab’s efforts focus on transcription factors and improving our understanding of how they alter polymerase activity. For instance, the Dowell lab has shown that the profile of eRNAs within the cell can infer changes in transcription factor activity between conditions. Much of this research hinges on the creation of new machine learning approaches to analyze vast sequencing datasets. Dr. Dowell leverages her diverse background and frequently collaborates with faculty members across departments to answer biological questions with computational tools.
The BioFrontiers Institute has benefited greatly from Robin Dowell’s interdisciplinary nature. She is a co-founder of Arpeggio BioSciences and holds a patent for the assessment of transcription factor activity. In addition to pursuing translational activities, Dr. Dowell is a dedicated educator. She led the development of a student team for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition and has hosted a Short Read Sequence Analysis summer workshop for several years. Dr. Dowell has been honored as a Kavli Foundation Fellow, a Linda Crnic Institute Investigator, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellow. By following biological problems across disciplines, Dr. Dowell is improving data analysis and illuminating the relationship between genetics and transcriptional regulation.