Cummings Awarded Grand Challenges Grant to Advance Genetic Analyses

Mar 27, 2023

Michael Cummings, a professor of biology with an appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, is the recipient of a $50,000 Individual Project Grant that will support his work in analyzing genetic ancestry more accurately at the sub-chromosome level.

The award comes from the university’s Grand Challenges Grants Program, a $30 million initiative to support research that offers promising solutions to emerging societal issues like climate change, social injustice, global health and education disparities.

Cummings’ three-year project, "Accurate, Equitable and Transparent Genetic Ancestry Inference," embodies social justice, health and fair and trustworthy technology.

"To fully achieve healthcare justice and separate genetic factors from social and environmental sources of health disparity, we need to recognize the genetic diversity of individuals at the sub-chromosome level," explains Cummings, who is the director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

Collaborating with Cummings is his advisee Alexis Boleda, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Biological Sciences Graduate Program.

Boleda works with Cummings to develop and evaluate new algorithms and data structures for the project.

"We already have a framework for how the method works," she says. "Now we are testing different alternatives to increase accuracy and computational efficiency."

Cummings and Boleda hope their research will provide a more accurate and comprehensive method for separating genetic factors from social and environmental sources of health disparity.

On a broader level, their work can help scientists better understand the principles behind population genetics, evolution, and the genetic basis of human biology.

–Story by Ethan Cannistra, UMIACS communications group