Dr. Baxevanis' research group uses computational techniques to understand the molecular innovations that drove the surge of diversity in early animal evolution. They have focused much of this work on early branching metazoans, which predate 99 percent of all animal species. By studying our most distant animal relatives, Dr. Baxevanis' group probes the interface of genomics and developmental biology. They have interpreted the origin and evolution of a number of gene families that play a fundamental role in animal development. These include the Hox and Wnt gene families, both of which play important roles in specifying the overall body plan of a developing organism.
Recently, Dr. Baxevanis' group sequenced the genome of a comb jelly (Mnemiopsis leidyi), a member of the last major animal lineage for which there were no sequenced genomes. They showed that comb jellies, which have complex cell types such as neurons and muscle cells, are our oldest animal relatives - even predating the sponge, a simple animal without complex cell types. The Mnemiopsis genome has not only shed new light on our view of what physical and structural features were present in the earliest animals, but has also provided a new way of thinking about early animal evolution. His studies show that a surprising number of genes implicated in human disease can be identified in the earliest animals. This finding argues strongly for looking beyond the traditional set of organisms we use as experimental models. Basic biological discoveries made in organisms such as Mnemiopsis can not only give us insights into the human genome, but could lay the groundwork for translational studies focused on specific human diseases. With this in mind, Dr. Baxevanis' group has set out to sequence two Hydractinia species, colonial invertebrates that have already shown great promise for the study of regeneration.
Dr. Baxevanis is assistant director for computational biology for the NIH Intramural Research Program. He served as the deputy scientific director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) from 1998 to 2011 before assuming his current position.
Dr. Baxevanis is also a senior scientist leading NHGRI's Computational Genomics Unit. His research program focuses on the use of phylogenetic and comparative genomic techniques to study developmental proteins that play a fundamental role in the specification of body plan, pattern formation and cell fate determination during metazoan development. His group aims to understand the evolution and function of these proteins and their ultimate role in human disease. Their current focus involves analyzing the genomes of early branching metazoan phyla to better understand the relationship between genomic and morphological complexity, as well as the evolution of novel cell types.
Dr. Baxevanis received his B.S. in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in the Department of Biology at The Johns Hopkins University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at NIH, after which he joined the NHGRI faculty.
Dr. Baxevanis is co-author of the textbook, Bioinformatics: A Practical Guide to the Analysis of Genes and Proteins, now in its third edition. He serves on a number of editorial and academic scientific advisory boards. He has taught bioinformatics at The Johns Hopkins University, served as an adjunct faculty member at Boston University and lectured in numerous courses, such as NHGRI's Current Topics in Genome Analysis series. Until recently, he also served as the co-director of the Boston University/NIH Graduate Partnerships Program in Bioinformatics.
Dr. Baxevanis is the recipient of the Bodossaki Foundation's 2000 Academic Prize in Medicine and Biology, Greece's highest honor for young academics and scientists of Greek heritage throughout the world. In 2007, Dr. Baxevanis was awarded the IEEE Computer Society's Outstanding Achievement Award for contributions to the field of bioinformatics. In 2014, he was elected to The Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars, which recognizes alumni who have achieved marked distinction in their fields of study.
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Last Updated: December 5, 2014