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Boise State research contributes to COVID-19 vaccine design

Greg Hampikian
Greg Hampikian, biology, conducts essential work during COVID-19 campus closure, John Kelly photo.

A bioinformatics nullomer strategy developed by Greg Hampikian and Tim Andersen at Boise State 15 years ago is now being used for COVID-19 vaccine design, as detailed in the Journal of Immunological Methods.

Hampikian and Andersen are professors in the departments of biology and computer science, respectively.

Nullomers, a term Hampikian coined, are the shortest string of absent bases in a genome, or absent amino acids in a proteome.

The recently released paper, “In the search of potential epitopes for Wuhan seafood market pneumonia virus using high order nullomers,” cites the seminal work by Hampikian and Andersen first presented as a paper at the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing in 2007. Current researchers have identified short protein sequences present in the COVID-19 virus that are absent (nullomers) in humans, and propose that they are the best targets for vaccine development.

“It is incredibly satisfying to see our hard work take off in labs across the world. We are also working on viral vaccines and new tests using nullomers, but we are thrilled to see other experts use this approach,” Hampikian said.

Hampikian patented a forensic DNA labelling product based on nullomers in 2003 but has advocated the approach for a wide range of biological and other analysis problems.