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The Ott laboratory focuses on the interpretation of genomic data, such as results from microarrays and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Ott develops new mathematical-statistical methods for human gene mapping and builds computer programs to implement them. He uses the resulting information to study the interactions among multiple disease loci that underlie complex traits, as well as to study how environmental risk factors modify disease loci effects.

Ott’s work falls into three broad categories: improving existing statistical analysis methods and developing new ones; creating computer programs to implement these methods; and applying the techniques to genetic data, most of which is collected by outside investigators.

Academic and industry researchers are most interested in heritable complex traits—such as heart disease and schizophrenia—that are believed to be under the control of multiple interacting susceptibility loci, each with relatively small effect. One of the challenges is in identifying sets of such disease loci. Ott carried out data analysis with collaborating drug companies, identifying nine SNP markers associated with post-angioplasty artery narrowing in one case and a gene associated with an adverse drug reaction in another.

Ott is also interested in improving analysis techniques that were developed in the lab. His set association analysis method, for example, is currently designed for case-control data or binary outcome variables. The approach grew out of scientists’ increasing need to work with a quantity of genes that can far outnumber the quantity of observations, such as that found in genomic screens for disease loci or in microarray experiments.

Ott is a pioneer in the field of genetic linkage and authored the first publicly accessible computer program on human linkage analysis (LIPED). His work provided the statistical framework for newer approaches to haplotype-relative risk methods. He has analyzed gene linkages for disorders including hypertension, macular degeneration, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, multiple sclerosis, and retinitis pigmentosa.

Ott earned his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Zurich in 1967 and his master’s degree in biomathematics from the University of Washington in 1972. In 1986 he accepted positions as professor of genetics and development at Columbia University and research scientist and director of the department of statistics at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Ott came to Rockefeller in 1996 as professor and head of the Laboratory of Statistical Genetics.

Ott was a MERIT awardee of the National Institute of Mental Health from 1991 to 2003. He received a medal of honor from the German Society for Human Genetics in 2007, the Ming Tsuang Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics in 2008, and the Allan Award from the American Society of Human Genetics in 2010. He was a professor at the Beijing Institute of Genomics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, from 2006 to 2010, a visiting professor at the Institute of Psychology in Beijing, Chinese Academy of Sciences, from 2011 to 2016, and has been the recipient of two four-year project grants from the Natural Science Foundation of China.