Cummings Named Director of CBCB

Mon Jun 17, 2019

Michael Cummings, a professor of biology noted for his expertise in molecular evolutionary genetics, has been named director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) for a period of three years, effective July 1, 2019.

As director, Cummings will guide a diverse community of faculty, research scientists, postdocs and students who are focused on questions arising from the genome revolution.

He has served as interim director of the center since January 2018, succeeding Eytan Ruppin, who is now chief scientist of a cancer data science lab at the National Cancer Institute.

Cummings says he is honored to lead CBCB.

“It feels quite nice to be named director,” he says. “I was the first person hired within the center, and it’s a place that’s very close to my heart. CBCB is my research home and I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue providing leadership to everyone here.”

Scientific activities in CBCB involve pathogen genomics, microbiome research, epigenetics, molecular evolution, transcriptional regulation, metabolic modeling, and more.

CBCB is one of seven major centers in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), where Cummings has an appointment.

“Michael has been a valuable asset to our research community for many years, both as a highly capable computational biologist, and as an excellent administrator,” says Mihai Pop, professor of computer science and director of UMIACS.

Cummings says one of his main goals for CBCB is to increase the center’s size by hiring more faculty and attracting more students and postdocs.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming Rob Patro [formerly an assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University] as a new colleague. He starts with us on July 1,” Cummings says. “He’ll be a real asset to the center, complementing our existing research and providing a nice basis for interactions with others interested in the work we do.”

Cummings says that CBCB plans to strengthen its outreach efforts to prospective corporate partners, taking advantage of the recent influx of technology-driven companies to College Park and the surrounding region.

He will also encourage new partnerships with others on campus involved in activities at the intersection of computing and the life sciences.

Helping with this goal, he says, has been the recent move of CBCB—along with the rest of UMIACS—to the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering.

“Coming here has really improved our interactions with staff and colleagues within UMIACS and computer science,” Cummings says. “It’s great that we’re all in one place now and can easily communicate face-to-face if needed.”

In addition to leading CBCB, Cummings will continue his own research that is focused on innovative experimental design and data analysis methods. This includes examining DNA sequence data for evolutionary inference, GPU computing, the use tree-based statistical models for genetic problems, and more.

Cummings came to the University of Maryland in 2003 as a visiting associate professor. He accepted full-time appointments in the Department of Biology and UMIACS in 2005.

He received his doctorate in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 1992, and completed postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, as an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. He also did postdoctoral work at the University of California, Riverside.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld