Itai Yanai is an associate professor in the Faculty of Biology at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the expression of genetic information throughout an organism’s life and the ways in which this process is constrained by its evolutionary history.
During the fellowship year, Yanai is working in Aviv Regev’s laboratory at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University on deciphering the evolutionary history of cancerous growths. Yanai is asking whether studying individual cancer cells using approaches from the field of evolutionary developmental biology can reveal the genetic history of particular growths. He seeks to determine, within a given cancer, the order of occurrence of those mutations that defined its evolutionary course, which may be helpful in predicting its trajectory.
Yanai earned his PhD in bioinformatics from Boston University and performed experimental biological work during his postdoctoral fellowship. Together with his research group, he studies the principles of embryonic development, such as the connection between morphological stages and their molecular fingerprints, the molecular universalities of animals, and the evolutionary history of the embryonic germ layers. As a useful method to address these issues, the group has recently developed a popular method for the analysis of the expression of all genes in individual cells. Yanai’s research work is supported in part by a grant from the European Research Council, and he is an EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) Young Investigator.