Earlier this year, Theodore (Ted) Kalbfleisch, PhD, joined the University of Kentucky (UK) Gluck Equine Research Center faculty. His work will focus on a secondary analysis of equid genomes and transcriptomes.
Previously an associate professor at the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Medicine, Kalbfleisch earned his doctorate in physical chemistry from Boston University and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UofL. He is originally from Louisville.
“I am very pleased that Dr. Kalbfleisch has joined our department, as he brings an international reputation in equine bioinformatics, a wealth of technical expertise, and a record of significant accomplishments in this area,” said David Horohov, PhD, chair of UK’s Department of Veterinary Science, director of the Gluck Equine Research Center, and Jes E. and Clementine M. Schlaikjer Endowed Chair and Professor at the Gluck Center. “His presence will allow our faculty and students the opportunity to expand their research through the application of bioinformatic analytics, thereby leading to new approaches to solve problems affecting various aspects of equine health and welfare.”
When asked about what he’d be researching, Kalbfleisch said, “We have learned a lot from our preliminary analyses of the whole genome sequence (genomic), and RNA-Seq (transcriptomic) data sets we have generated over the last decade. We have built comprehensive catalogs of genetic variation that exist across horse breeds, and of tissue specific profiles of gene expression.
“As the sequencing technology has evolved, we are now able to identify a great deal more about how genetic variation both impacts, and is reflected by, gene transcription and transcriptional regulation,” he continued. “This is a wonderful time to be working in this field as there are any number of new and exciting ways to study cellular function, and gain a better understanding of the genetic and genomic basis of equine health. The next few years are going to be a lot of fun.”
Kalbfleisch recently participated in a Q&A on his transition to and work at the Gluck Center:
Q: What excites you about starting in your current position?
A: I’ve been working with Gluck scientists now for about seven or so years and have had wonderfully productive collaborations. The work has been very interesting and equally rewarding. The chance to interact and exchange ideas with them is an exciting opportunity.
Q: What’s the coolest or most interesting thing you’re working on right now?
A: We are working on a process to better analyze RNA-Seq data. The pipelines as they exist today rely heavily on quality of the reference genome, and its companion genomic annotation. There is an opportunity to miss a lot when there are missing transcripts, or poorly annotated genomic regions. I believe we can reanalyze much of the RNA-Seq data that has been generated for the horse and derive a great deal more information with respect to what genes are transcribed, whether or not there is allelic specificity, and even if there are contributions to the expression profile from bacterial or viral species that could contribute phenotypically. This is a lot of fun.
Q: What could you give a 30-minute presentation about with no advance preparation?
A: When you sequence a genome, or a transcriptome, you sequence all the genomic DNA or transcribed RNA in that sample. There is so much information in those samples, including the genomic DNA or RNA of any bacteria that may be present in the sample, the genomic DNA of cells containing somatic mutation (some of these could be cancerous), or in circulating blood samples various cells that have sloughed off from any number of organs or tissues, some of which could be under stress. These datasets are a treasure trove of information. Although, with our current approaches and tools, any analysis broad enough to study all these components would be impractical at best; it is loads of fun to think about just how you would do it, and what you would do with information you uncovered.
Q: What’s something that has surprised you about your chosen career path?
A: Just how unpredictable it has been. As an undergraduate studying chemistry, or even as a graduate student studying physical chemistry I never would have imagined the trajectory my career has taken. I have been incredibly fortunate in that really interesting opportunities have bubbled up at the same time I have had an open enough mind to consider grabbing them. It has worked out pretty well.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
A: I honestly don’t know if there has been a more fun time to be in science. We are limited in what we can learn only by or imaginations. I can’t wait to see what we, and the next few generations of scientists do.
Holly Wiemers, MA, APR, is UK Ag Equine Programs’ communications and managing director.