Student: Tanner Koomar, PhD student in Genetics, University of Iowa
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jacob Michaelson
Understanding the Biology of Language through Whole Genome Sequencing
My project bridges psychology and genetics, with an eye toward future advances in physiology and even psychiatry. We are interrogating genes and regulatory mechanisms which underly language and communication, with a first-of-its-kind whole genome sequencing study of a cohort of hundreds of people thoroughly assessed for language, cognitive and behavioral traits. This is allowing us to move from traditional models of language disorders to deeper quantification of language as a continuous trait. Advancing our understanding of these genes and their regulation will allow us to move “upward”, connecting language ability to developmental pathways and functional networks (brain activity). We have begun to take the first steps in this direction as we are developing automated tools for assessment of communication ability with a focus on how it relates to mood and mental state.