UCSC biomolecular engineer Russ Corbett-Detig wins Sloan Research Fellowship

Corbett-Detig studies evolution and genetic diversity in species ranging from fruit flies to humans

Russ Corbett-Detig
Russ Corbett-Detig (photo by C. Lagattuta)

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship to Russ Corbett-Detig, assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz.

The prestigious two-year fellowship includes a grant of $60,000 to support Corbett-Detig's research, which focuses on evolutionary genetics and bioinformatics. Awarded annually since 1955, the Sloan Research Fellowships are given to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars, the next generation of scientific leaders.

Corbett-Detig studies the processes that govern genetic diversity in populations of species ranging from fruit flies to humans. One focus of this work is on interactions between genes and the role of this phenomenon, called "epistasis," in evolution. Corbett-Detig has been studying epistasis in the context of isolated populations that come together and hybridize (a process called "admixture").

"Admixture is a way to evaluate how important interaction between genes is for the evolution of populations," he said. "Almost all human populations are admixed populations at some point in their evolutionary history, and this approach is a good way to study things like disease variation in human populations. We can't do genetic experiments with humans, but we can work with fruit flies in the laboratory to develop models of genetic processes."

Corbett-Detig's research combines classical experimental approaches in the laboratory with novel computational and statistical methods to analyze large genomic datasets. He has developed methods to estimate the times of multiple admixture events in the history of a population. Among other things, he plans to use this method to characterize the admixture histories of human populations for which demographic histories are not well known--for example, to determine if Greenlandic Inuits interbred with early Viking settlers.

Corbett-Detig earned his B.S. in evolution, ecology, and biodiversity at UC Davis and his Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. He joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz, where he is affiliated with the Genomics Institute, in 2016.

The Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in close coordination with the scientific community. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists, and winners are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. The fellowships are awarded in chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant making institution that supports original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics.