Brantley Hall
Researcher, Brantley Hall identifys Y chromosome genes through the use of his Chromosome Quotient (or CQ).

Brantley Hall developes a novel method to identify Y chromosome genes

With more than one hundred countries throughout the world reporting cases of malaria just last year, researchers continue to search for solutions for the endemic problem. Brantley Hall, a rising graduate student in the Genetics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Ph.D. program, has taken an interest in tackling the issue while working in the lab of Zhijian Jake Tu, professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Tu’s research focuses on mosquito sex-determination and targeting mosquitoes where they are vulnerable. “Females are responsible for the spread of the parasite and they only mate once,” said Hall. “This team is looking for genes that can potentially turn the females into males or make males sterile, making them harmless.”

Manipulating the genome of a species is a controversial issue. However, current methods of killing mosquitoes involve pesticides harmful to a wide range of species. The proposed method would target a single species of malaria vector. There are currently more than3,000 species of mosquitoes, and these alternative solutions target the few that spread disease among thousands that do not.

“It’s the difference between using a scalpel versus a nuclear bomb,” said Hall.

Hall recently coauthored a paper in BMC Genomics which makes some leaps in helping solve this world problem. The team identified six Y sequences among two parasite-carrying mosquito species, Anopheles stephensi and Anopheles gambiae. Prior to this publication, zero had been identified.  

Hall also developed a method for identifying chromosomes called the chromosome quotient (CQ). The majority of all animals have X, Y, and autosomal chromosomes.  “The CQ is the first computational method to identify Y chromosome sequences,” said Hall. In his paper he identifies Y chromosome sequences of the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), A. stephensi, A. gambiae (parasite carrying mosquitoes) andHomo sapiens (humans).

“The chromosome quotient method is not limited to insect genomes; this finding can help scientists studying any XX/XY species,” said Hall.  

“The CQ approach used to identify Y chromosome sequences has two major advantages over the previous methods. It does not rely on high-quality genome assembly and it is computationally efficient. This method makes it possible to rapidly identify Y chromosome genes from diverse organisms, which will facilitate functional and evolutionary analyses of the important but long-neglected Y chromosome and sheds light on sexual reproduction and speciation,” said Tu.   

Hall co-authored this paper as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech and has been accepted into the Genetics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology program where he will begin this fall. Hall’s goal is to become a tenured professor.

Q&A

Hometown: 

Christiansburg, Virginia

Degree: 

Bachelor of Science, Biological Sciences

Fralin Advisor: 

Zhijian Jake Tu

What attracted you to your particular field of science?

Fortuitous coincidence. I had never thought about bioinformatics before I started research. It turns out it is great field.

What are your ultimate career goals?

Tenured professor.

Which quality of the following do you feel is the most important for a scientist to possess—open-mindedness, precision, time management skills, optimism, cynicism, integrity, a good sense of humor? Why? 

Open-mindedness. Sometimes the biggest advances come from unexpected results.

Be a geek: what’s your favorite piece of equipment to use in the lab?  Why?

We have a server with 48 cores and 256GB of RAM. It is pretty fast.

Which type of science, other than what you study, interests you most?

 I think that synthetic biology has a very bright future.  

Have any pets?

I have a retired racing greyhound, Ben.