April Is Mathematics Awareness Month

March 3, 2002

This year's Mathematics Awareness Month focuses on the contributions of mathematics to the understanding of the human genome. From the Mathematics Awareness Month Web site (see access information at the end of this item):

The sequencing of the human genome has given scientists and indeed all of us the sense that we are coming into possession of the key to enormous insights into many fundamental medical and biological problems. Yet, even as waves of new data from these projects inundate the scientific community, the problem of interpreting and using this new data has arisen as a fundamental challenge to meaningful research in the biomedical sciences. Mathematics has made a central contribution to the organization and understanding of this data to date and will play an ever larger role in its analysis.

As data collection for the genome sequencing problems became automated, large, fast, efficient computer algorithms were utilized to reconstruct the genome from the fragments that researchers could sequence and to help locate where genes were in this avalanche of sequence data. Now, scientists are moving on to the study of the dynamic system of proteins and RNAs produced from the genome---and how that profoundly complex system is regulated. Both dynamical-system methods from machine learning and statistics are being used to figure out how the control system of the genome has been "engineered." Researchers are dealing with challenging issues in statistics so that they can design experiments that optimize the information extracted from such experiments. These techniques are already being used to discern molecular "signatures" of tumor types---to be used in the prescription of cancer therapy regimens by clinicians. Micro-array technologies allow thousands of potential gene products to be measured simultaneously, affording a snapshot of the genome's dynamics. Computational models of large biomolecules are now central to drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry.

The Mathematics Awareness Month poster pictured here emphasizes the mathematical aspects of genome science today. Its distribution---and other features of the Mathematics Awareness Month program for 2002---will help scientists focus on the role of the mathematical sciences in understanding the human genome and the possible contributions the mathematical sciences can make in other areas of medicine and biology.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Math Awareness Month Web site where they can download the electronic version of the poster, order printed copies, read the theme essay, link to related resources, and learn more about activities and events. Math Forum, the Web site's host and an on-line community for mathematics education, was recently acquired by Drexel University and has changed its name to Math Forum@Drexel (http://mathforum.org).

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