January 4, 2019

Nick Goldman

L2Nick Goldman – the leader of the research team studying molecular genome evolution for the European Bioinformatics Institute, in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Goldman has a first degree in mathematics and received his PhD in molecular evolution from the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, in 1992. He worked at the Natural History Museum (London), the MRC-National Institute for Medical Research (London) and the University of Cambridge before joining the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in 2002. Goldman is also an EMBL Senior Scientist and a member of EBI’s Strategy and Management Committee.

Nick Goldman has published approximately 100 scientific papers and is attributed with over 30,000 citations and an h-index of 56 (Google Scholar). He leads a research group devising novel data analysis techniques for molecular evolution. This is one of the teams that created the modern field of “DNA-storage”, the use of DNA to archive digital information. The group’s research focuses on the development of data analysis methods for the study of molecular sequence evolution and for the exploitation of evolutionary information to draw inferences about phylogenetic history and genomic function. The three main research activities include developing new evolutionary models and methods, providing these methods to other scientists via stand-alone software and web services and applying such techniques to tackle biological questions of interest. The team participates in comparative genomic studies, both independently and in collaboration with others, including the analysis of next-generation sequencing (NGS) data. This vast source of new data promises great gains in understanding genomes and brings with it many new challenges.

In 2013 the entire collection of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets has been spelled out in DNA by his group to demonstrate the vast potential of genetic storage. Reporting in Nature, researchers write of encoding a variety of files—jpg, mp3, txt, and pdf—into strands of DNA. Huge quantities of information could be written into specks of DNA and archived for tens of thousands of years, the researchers claim. Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney knew that DNA was an incredibly efficient and compact way to store information, and set about devising a way to turn the molecules into digital memory: capable of encoding the 1s and 0s used to store words, images, music and video on computers. The scientists developed a code that used the four molecular letters or “bases” of genetic material – known as G, T, C and A – to store information. Digital files store data as strings of 1s and 0s. The Cambridge team’s code turns every block of eight numbers in a digital code into five letters of DNA.

At the 2015 meeting of the World Economic Forum, Nick Goldman set a challenge to decode a DNA sequence in order to gain access to a key that would unlock a digital wallet. It was completed by a Ph.D. student studying at the University of Antwerp just before the three year deadline.

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World Economic Forum (March 2015)
 (About recreating computer files from DNA sequence)
“And they come out exactly the same. They weren’t just similar – every single bit, every single zero and every single one was correctly reproduced.
So we have essentially a proof of principle that we don’t just have to marvel at the way nature has evolved a system for storing information in DNA in every living being but we can use a very similar kind of system and use the same chemical molecule that’s so good for storing information.”