Faris Gulamali ’21

Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

My project at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. particularly focused on determining the genes and gene groups that are responsible for a wide range of different phenotypes. The primary dataset that is used for this project is called a genome wide association study or GWAS.

A genome wide association study is a dataset conducted on a given phenotype that contains several different elements crucial to understanding the genome of a group of people such as the name of a genetic variant, the major and minor version of that variant, and the statistical significance of that variant with respect to the phenotype in question.

The primary method to determine how gene groups cause a phenotype is a method called linkage-disequilibrium score regression or LDSC. LDSC is a method by which regression coefficients are determined for a specific gene and it can be used to measure how heritable a given gene set is.

Understanding the heritability of a given trait can be challenging but is now crucial for understanding the causal nature of a given gene or set of genes. Using the heritability, the causality and effect size of gene groups can be linked to specific phenotypes. For example, if you have a set of genes that are linked to muscles, and then you find that those genes are correlated with a specific phenotype, you may be able to conclude that the phenotype in 
question is caused by some form of muscular attribute.

My work primarily involved calculating the heritability and linkage-disequilibrium scores for a given set of phenotypes. My internship experience gave me significant exposure to the field of genetics and was specifically vetted towards my interest in neuroscience. My biology thesis is focused on genetic targeting of neurons. At Williams in Matt Carter’s lab, I use genes to isolate a given set of neurons and genetically target, colocalize, activate and 
measure their activity in vivo. However, it really begs the question of how do we decide which genes to target. 
My work over the summer specifically answered that question and I found it both fascinating and interesting as it generally deepened my understanding of both genetics and neuroscience. I intend on taking courses over my senior year that further pursue an understanding of genetics and human biology as a whole, as well as explore the implications of human biology research on a larger space.

I would like to thank Dr. Tarjinder Singh, for mentoring me over the past three months and highly appreciate all the time and effort he dedicated towards my project. I would also like to thank the ’68 Center for this summer opportunity and also highly appreciate their support throughout the journey.