Postdoctoral research in biomedical machine learning and functional genomics

Currently, Robert Ietswaart is a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Prof. Stirling Churchman in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Supported by an EMBO Long Term Postdoctoral Fellowship, he has used native elongating transcript sequencing (NET-seq) to quantitatively dissect the genome-wide transcriptional regulation of a chromatin-modifier and the effects of a small molecule inhibitor. The aim of his ongoing research project is to identify novel targets for lung cancer, in collaboration with the lab of Prof. Carla Kim. To identify the relevant molecular functions of regulatory factors in this process, Robert has developed GeneWalk, for which he received the Prospective Future Impact Award from the International Society for Computational Biology. GeneWalk is publicly available as a software package, which he implemented together with colleagues from the Prof. Peter Sorger lab at the HMS Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology. In collaboration with dr. Laszlo Urban and other researchers from Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research and several academic institutions, they have developed machine learning to assess drug safety from in-vitro pharmacology.

PhD in computational and systems biology

In his PhD research in the labs of Profs. Martin Howard and Caroline Dean at the John Innes Centre (University of East Anglia, UK), Robert has quantitatively characterized the RNA life cycle of FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC), a key floral repressor in Arabidopsis and other plant species, whose expression is tightly regulated by chromatin and antisense transcription. He discovered that the FLC transcription rate scales with cell size and exhibits minimal stochastic variation, whilst other RNA processing and degradation rates do not depend on cell size. Antisense transcription inverts the FLC cell-size scaling. Together with dr. Zhe Wu, they also found that FLC transcription initiation and elongation rates are coordinated and regulated by the chromatin state at the locus. During his PhD, Robert was supported by a BBSRC DTP studentship (UK) and scholarships from the VSBfonds and Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (Netherlands).

Education in physics and mathematics

Ietswaart received two Bachelor's degrees (both cum laude), in Physics and Mathematics, from Leiden University (Netherlands). In his undergraduate thesis research, Robert studied experimental single molecule biophysics and the underlying theory of stochastic processes in the groups of Profs. Marileen Dogterom and Frank Redig. Subsequently, he completed a Masters degree (cum laude) in Theoretical Physics from Leiden University, during which he received the Hendrik Casimir prize for outstanding MSc students in Physics. His master thesis research project was co-supervised by Prof. Helmut Schiessel and Prof. Martin Howard. In collaboration with the lab of Prof. Kenn Gerdes, they have published their findings on the reaction-motion mechanism responsible for regular plasmid spacing in bacteria.