Whitehead Fellow


Yaniv Erlich

Fellow, Whitehead Institute


Erlich Lab


In the Erlich lab, the benches hold an equal distribution of computers and lab paraphernalia.

“The lab is both computational and wet lab,” says Whitehead Fellow Yaniv Erlich.  “And I really like the structure.  I have computational people sitting next to molecular biology people in the same room.  So there are no barriers.…  It’s exactly what I envisioned before I came here. ”

Like his lab at Whitehead Institute, Erlich’s background is a mix of analytical engineering and traditional “wet” lab work. So it is not surprising that he is quite comfortable integrating the disciplines.

During two undergraduate summer research opportunities, Erlich began his career on the computational side of biology. His projects used modeling, math, and engineering to produce useful information for biologists.

A few years later, Erlich’s research segued from computational biology into genetics.  As one of Greg Hannon’s graduate students at Cold Spring Harbor, he started working on signal processing and DNA sequencing.  Although the Hannon lab focuses on mainly RNAs and their related pathways, Erlich’s research eventually shifted to human genetics. 

As he neared completion of his doctorate in 2010, Erlich was already pushing the limits of DNA analysis by uniting his computational toolkit with genetics. Current DNA assays excel at analyzing large amounts of DNA and multiple genomes, but they are prohibitively expensive for assaying one genome at a time for a rare defect.  By combining the strength of the assays with relatively cheap computer analysis, Erlich invented a clever way to flag genomes with a rare mutation in a large pool of patient samples. 

The method uses the latest DNA sequencers to analyze thousands of patient sample combinations. Then computer algorithms pinpoint the samples with a mutated gene by the process of elimination.  The method is similar to the logic used to solve a Sudoku number puzzle.

In another avenue of research, Erlich identified the causes of two rare diseases: Joubert’s syndrome in Ashkenazi Jews and heritable spastic paraplegia in a Palestinian family.

At Whitehead, Erlich’s lab focuses on building new tools and algorithms for studying human genomics.

Selected Achievements

  • Goldberg-Lindsay PhD Fellow
  • Wolf Foundation Scholarship for Excellence in Exact Sciences
  • IEEE/ACM High Performance Computing Award (2008)
  • Harold M. Weintraub Award (2010)
  • Selected by Genome Technology as Tomorrow's PIs (2010)
  • Exposed new vulnerabilities in the security of personal genetic information
  • Holds two patents in the field of high throughput sequencing
  • Identified mechanism that may protect offspring from chromosome
    transmission diseases such as Down's syndrome

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