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Environmental Factor, November 2015

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Jothi earns tenure from NIH

By Ian Thomas

Headshot of Raja Jothi

When he is not in the lab, Jothi enjoys spending time with family and following the Dallas Cowboys. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

When Raja Jothi, Ph.D., arrived at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2004, he was determined to put his computational skills to work, to make a difference in biomedical sciences. In 2009, that goal came into sharper focus when he shifted gears to a tenure-track research position at NIEHS.

Now lead researcher of the Systems Biology Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology, Jothi was granted tenure status from NIH in October. “It is always good to know that you are doing good work,” said Jothi. “Tenure gives us the freedom to take on bigger challenges and risks.”

“A lot of people helped me to get here,” he continued, “from my mentors and colleagues to my trainees, who ran the gauntlet during my formative years as an independent researcher, and very few, if any, of my successes would have been possible without them.”

The road so far

A native of Chennai, India, Jothi began his education at the University of Madras in Chennai, where he earned a bachelors degree in computer science and engineering. He then attended graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he completed masters and doctoral degrees in the same fields.

After his time in Texas, Jothi made the trek to NIH. There he served as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Computational Biology Branch at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and then in the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

In the years since, Jothi has served on the editorial boards of the journals PLOS ONE and Frontiers in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. He is also a member of the International Society for Computational Biology.

By the numbers

At NIEHS, the Jothi lab seeks to understand how transcription regulators, which are proteins that determine which genes are turned on or off, control gene expression programs during cellular development, differentiation, and disease development. His team uses embryonic stem cells as a model system to study gene networks that control key cell fate decisions.

Research within the group is largely data-driven, using computational analyses of published and in-house datasets from high-throughput genomic and proteomic studies, with the goal of generating testable hypotheses. The lab is used to test those hypotheses, and to perform biochemical experiments for gaining mechanistic insights.

“We have successfully identified and characterized many genes and pathways with previously unknown roles in embryonic stem cell biology,” Jothi explained. “Our current efforts include understanding how signaling cascades instruct epigenetic and transcription networks regulating cell fate decisions.”

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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