Hasiba Asma

Hasiba Asma.

Hasiba Asma works with SCRMshaw in the laboratory of Marc S. Halfon, PhD, as a doctoral candidate in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics.

Hasiba Asma is a doctoral candidate in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics (GGB) who expects to graduate from the program in December.

Asma came to UB from Pakistan in 2017 to study in the master's program in GGB as a Fulbright Foreign Student fellow, and is believed to be the first Pakistani to have been awarded the prestigious fellowship to study bioinformatics at UB.

She studies in the laboratory of her mentor, Marc S. Halfon, PhD, professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

After graduation, she plans to continue in academic research, pursuing a postdoctorate in genomics and epigenetics.

Could you describe your research?

I work on bioinformatics, the computational side of Dr. Halfon’s lab. I’m working with SCRMshaw, which is a computational method that was developed by our lab in collaboration with Dr. Saurabh Sinha at the University of Illinois. It identifies the genomic regulatory sequences that regulate the gene expression in fruit flies and other insects in a machine learning framework. Our goal is to apply SCRMshaw on 60 or more insect genomes. I have used SCRMshaw to predict enhancers in 26 genomes so far.

What got you interested in this type of research?

Bioinformatics has always been my passion. I was always interested in biology and computers. Bioinformatics includes both of these subjects, and is the perfect combination. I always wanted to find cures for diseases. My desire is to help people, and bioinformatics is playing a major role in that. The things we can do with bioinformatics are unimaginable. We can use genomic sequences to find cures for diseases and improve agriculture for everyone’s benefit.  

Where will this research take you?

With all these next generation sequencing techniques that are out there, there are a growing number of genomes that are being sequenced, but there are only a few species with known enhancer sequences. My research is giving me the opportunity to characterize those genomic sequences for a wide range of insects, which is very essential for us understanding their biology.

How has Dr. Halfon influenced you and your research?

I feel very fortunate that I found Dr. Halfon’s lab. He has been a tremendous mentor to me. His door is always open and he encourages active problem-solving skills in his students. He has given me a lot of encouragement. He always tells me that ‘I know you can do this,’ and his confidence in me inspires my own confidence in myself and the desire to not let him down has given me strength to do any task.

What are your impressions of the Jacobs School program?

This program has given me wonderful opportunities to meet other research students. Dr. Halfon has always given me the opportunity to work as an independent scientist, and being in the Jacobs School you meet other students who are working like that. That encourages me.

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