Picture: 2007 Overton Prize Winner,
Dr. Eran Segal
The International Society for Computational Biology is pleased to award the 2007 Overton Prize to Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.
ISCB established the Overton Prize in 2001 in memory of G. Christian Overton, who was director of the Center for Bioinformatics at the University of Pennsylvania and a major contributor to the field. The award acknowledges community members who are less than 12 years post-degree and have already made major contributions to the field through research, education, service, or a combination of the three. “He [Overton] was a member of the ISCB Board of Directors, and his sudden death in 2000 was a shock to the community,” said Thomas Lengauer, chair of the ISCB Awards Committee. “Those of us who remember Chris Overton remember the kind of work he did—however laborious it was, it was always exciting and thought provoking, dominated by an innovative spark. Eran Segal seems to me to be especially deserving of this award in Chris's memory."
In the summer of 2006, Eran Segal and colleagues published a study in Nature (442, 772-778, 17 August 2006) hypothesizing that the instructions for wrapping DNA around nucleosomes are contained in the DNA itself, using a statistical computational model to predict exactly how that is done, and completing the proof by verifying the predictions with experiments in yeast.
"This important paper brought Segal and his main collaborator, experimentalist Jonathan Widom of Northwestern University, a lot of attention," says Lengauer. "It was featured in Nature's 'News and Views' section in an article by Tim Richmond, and the work was also described in a 'Making the Paper' section. And it made The New York Times on July 25, 2006.
Segal obtained his B.Sc. (summa cum laude) in computer science from Tel-Aviv University in 1998. He did his doctoral work in computer science and genetics at Stanford University, obtaining his Ph.D. in 2004. His advisor, Daphne Koller, remembers him vividly. "One of Eran's most impressive qualities," she says, "is his ability to get things done effectively and extremely well. He would be working on five projects, and I would be sure that at most one would get done. But not with Eran—he just kept producing idea after idea, result after result, paper after paper.”
Segal spent a year as a research fellow at the Center for Physics and Biology at Rockefeller University before joining the Weizmann Institute in 2005. "My lab develops quantitative statistical models aimed at understanding how molecular components interact in performing complex biological functions," Segal says. "We are interested in the control of transcription and translation and the structure of chromatin as it contributes to these. We are currently applying our ideas to the transcriptional network of the Drosophila embryo, in an attempt to develop thermodynamic models that will explain how cells compute the expression patterns of the system from the cis-regulatory DNA sequence and binding-site preferences of the participating transcription factors. We're also continuing our work on the DNA sequence preferences of nucleosomes and the way in which they specify the overall nucleosome organization."
Of his award, Segal says, "I'm very honored to be singled out, and I must thank my mentors, Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman, and my students, colleagues, and collaborators, people without whose efforts no progress could be made. In particular, I am enjoying close collaborations with several experimentalists like Jon Widom, Ulrike Gaul, and Howard Chang, and I'm extremely appreciative of their ability to confirm or refute in vivo the results that emerge from our lab's efforts in silico. We, in turn, take cues from their results in revising or adjusting our models. This prize affirms the value of our process."
Eran Segal will be presented with the 2007 ISCB Overton Prize in Vienna and give a keynote address on July 23, 2007. To read additional biographical information and view an abstract of his talk, Quantitative Models for Chromatin and Transcription Regulation," see