Faculty Research Highlight: Xiaoqiu Huang
As the world continues to change due to our industrial practices, researchers worldwide are working at making all aspects of our society more sustainable for our future. One such researcher is Xiaoqiu Huang, a professor of Computer Science. His work focuses on the evolution and biology of fungal pathogens. Using genome sequence data, his research can be used to develop regenerative agriculture methods and improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By keeping carbon in the soil, his research can positively affect climate change and help create more sustainable farming practices.
Huang uses genome sequences to analyze several populations from a fungal pathogen species complex. Presently, his research focuses on supernumerary chromosomes, highly variable regions of the genome that are not essential for the species’ survival. His research currently focuses on the idea that the huge variations in supernumerary chromosomes within pathogen populations result from the movement of genetic information between genomes other than by vertical transmission of DNA from parent to offspring.
As he continues with this research and more genome sequence data, Huang wants to expand his research from fungal pathogens to fungal mutualists. Fungal mutualists form communities with other microbes, including bacteria in the roots of plants. These plant root communities provide water and nutrients to the plants, develop fertile topsoil, keep carbon in soils, and help plants adapt to changes in climate. The genomes of fungal mutualists could be up to ten times larger than those of fungal pathogens, leading to more discoveries. More discoveries can lead to a greater understanding of how to develop a more resilient food supply and sustainable farming practices – leading to a decrease in food insecurity as the world around us changes.
Xiaoqiu Huang is a professor of computer science at Iowa State University. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from Pennsylvania State University in 1990. His research area is bioinformatics. He has developed a number of computational techniques for the reconstruction and comparison of DNA sequences over the last three decades. For example, he is the author of a widely used CAP3 assembly program. He and his collaborators developed a whole-genome assembly program named PCAP. PCAP was used by Washington University Genome Center in chimpanzee and chicken genome projects. He is also interested in understanding the prevalence and implications of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of asexual filamentous fungal pathogens. He was selected on Stanford University’s 2020, 2021, and 2022 Lists of the Top 2% Scientists in the World.