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Ajay Royyuru


Ajay Royyuru

Ajay Royyuru heads the Computational Biology Center at IBM Research, engaged in basic and exploratory research at the intersection of information technology and biology.

He usually has so much fun on his job, most days it doesn't even seem like work, so he claims. The IEEE Spectrum magazine picked his job as one of the 10 Dream Jobs in 2006. Ajay leads the IBM Research team working with National Geographic Society on the Genographic Project, the most ambitious genetic anthropology study ever undertaken. This project aims at understanding the migratory patterns and origins of all people by analysing information obtained from DNA samples from around the world.

Scientists are identifying and using unique markers found in human DNA that act as ancestral markers of descent: each identifies progressive branches on the human family tree from ancient lineages to more recent ones. This genetic information is combined with geographic, ethnic, linguistic, and such anthropological information from the participants to reconstruct the migratory history of mankind.

Not just a scientist examining the evidence, he is participating as well. Born and raised in central India, in the state of Chattisgarh, Ajay is a member of Haplogroup H. Ajay can trace his ancestry back four generations on his mother's side to the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, an Indian state on the Bay of Bengal. His father's family came from the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, but because his paternal grandfather was adopted into the Royyuru family, the genealogical trail goes cold.

There are some other ancestral clues. "My last name implies that my ancestors once hailed from the town of Royyuru, also in the state of Andhra Pradesh," says Ajay. And while there is no royalty perched in his family tree, there is a freedom fighter.

"My maternal grandfather participated in the freedom struggle in India, to win independence from British rule. He was imprisoned a few times for participating in non-violent protest."

Haplogroup H predominates especially in southern India and Sri Lanka and is one of the older genetic groups. Males in this genetic group are found in a crescent extending as far north and west of India as eastern Germany.

While Ajay says he was unsurprised by the DNA findings, "This knowledge did prompt me to think and reaffirm my belief that all diversity we see today - in languages, caste, rituals etc - is fairly recent on historical timescale, and that the people on this planet are a lot more closely related than the apparent differences would suggest."

Ajay joined IBM Research in 1998, initiating research in structural biology. He obtained his Ph. D. in Molecular Biology from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (Bombay) and B. Sc. (Hons.) in Human Biology and M. Sc. in Biophysics from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Ajay did post-doctoral work in structural biology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. Currently, his work focuses on collaborative research at the interface of information technology and biology. Working with biologists and institutions around the world, he is engaged in research and development of computer and software systems that will advance personalized, information-based medicine. Ajay has authored numerous research publications in structural and computational biology. He is a member of professional societies ISCB and IEEE.