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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Erez Lieberman-Aiden, 29

Quantitative tools offer new insights into evolution

Harvard University/MIT

When Erez Lieberman-Aiden started his PhD in applied math in 2003, evolutionary theory couldn't handle the complex shapes of real-world populations. So he helped it adapt by combining it with specialized mathematical tools. His advances at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology have allowed evolutionary biologists to include more variables in their models.

His next challenge: "People talk about the evolution of culture and language, but I found myself wondering whether evolution is really relevant to culture," Lieberman-Aiden says. Working with Google, he and colleagues are building tools that can scan massive collections of digital texts and quantify how often a word--say, communism--appears in those from a particular era and place. This makes it easy to observe the movement of ideas, culture, and language across time and space.

Recently, Lieberman-Aiden has shifted his research toward genomics. Scientists can determine the sequence of bases in DNA, but they've had no way to know the genome's overall structure. L­ieberman-Aiden has co­developed a method that determines both sequence and structure--revealing, for instance, conformational changes that bring two genes close even though they're far apart along the length of a chromosome.--Erika Jonietz

2009 TR35 Winners

Jorge Conde (video)

Offering consumers whole-genome sequencing--and software to interpret it

José Gómez-Márquez (video)

Practical medical devices for use in poor countries

Michelle Khine (video)

A children’s toy inspires a cheap, easy production method for high-tech diagnostic chips

Erez Lieberman-Aiden

Quantitative tools offer new insights into evolution

Andrew Lynn

Repairing joints by stimulating regrowth in bone and cartilage

Ellis Meng

Micropumps deliver drugs that prevent blindness

C. Shad Thaxton

Nanoparticles could treat cardiovascular disease by mimicking “good cholesterol”

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