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Computational biology

Citizen Press - 26/01/2016

Blérina Sinaimeri, permanent researcher of the ERABLE Team

Blérina Sinaimeri

Blérina Sinaimeri specializes in computational biology: computing applied to the life sciences. A member of the ERABLE* team, she has been a permanent researcher in this laboratory since October 2015. The young researcher also has a passion for scientific mediation.

Can you describe your career path to us? How did you come to be a researcher in computing?

Blérina Sinaimeri : Both my parents are professors of philosophy. It is probably they who gave me this appetite for questioning things that guides my work. One of my elementary school teachers then introduced me to the beauty of mathematics and my passion has never weakened since then. When I began my university studies, the political situation in Albania was unstable and so I went to study in Italy instead. I chose computing because I was attracted by the fact it was a new field. It fascinates me because it offers a combination of theoretical and practical aspects. It’s a discipline that allows both abstract and concrete thinking. I was lucky enough to work on my thesis, on graph theory, with Professor János Körner at the Sapienza University of Rome. I then joined Inria’s ERABLE team (which was called BAMBOO* at that time) in 2012 for a post-doc. We specialize in designing algorithms applied to the study of biological phenomena. In October 2015, I was appointed a permanent researcher within the laboratory.

What are the current subjects of your research?

Blérina Sinaimeri : I am working on the symbiotic relationships between living organisms — that is to say, the relationships maintained by the species that live sustainably in the same ecosystem. The symbiotic interactions can be of various types: mutualistic (both species benefit from the relationship), commensalistic (one organism benefits from the other without affecting it) or parasitic (one benefits while harming the other). These relationships sometimes influence the evolution of one of the species. Thanks to our algorithms, we can analyze very large volumes of data in order to model, understand and sometimes even predict these phenomena.
My research may have medical applications. For example, we estimate that nearly 75% of all emerging human diseases are “zoonotic”, that is to say, maladies that can be naturally transmitted from animals to Man. Reconstructing the evolutionary history of the symbiotic relationships between Man and other species enables us to understand the origin of these pathologies and so helps us to fight them.

You took part in the latest Science Festival at Inria Grenoble – Rhône-Alpes. Why are you interested in scientific mediation?

I believe that curiosity should be cultivated

Blérina Science Festival

Blérina Sinaimeri : I have always liked to talk about science. I believe that curiosity should be cultivated, desires should be encouraged and passions should be stimulated. That is why a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of teachers. When I discuss my research, I like to talk about what we do not know…. In this way, I hope to excite the curiosity of the youngsters. Being a researcher requires a lot of work and perseverance. There are moments of frustration when nothing seems to make sense. But there are also times when we manage to solve a longstanding question. It’s really exciting!

Keywords: ERABLE Team Symbiotic relationships Blérina Sinaimeri Computational biology