Richard (Rick) Lathrop, UC Irvine Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Biomedical Engineering, died on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. Lathrop, one of the early pioneers in bioinformatics and a passionate educator of artificial intelligence, was a beloved faculty member of the UCI Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) for 26 years, retiring in 2021.
During his time at UCI, he was awarded every campus teaching award, including the UCI Professor of the Year Award in 2009, the comparable schoolwide award in 2008, and the UCI Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research in 2003. Over the years, he also served as a vice-chair of undergraduate education, was ICS Honors Program director for 25 years, was a program leader and advisor for the UCI Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, and served on the board for the UCI Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) for a decade.
Lathrop received a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science and his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Following his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, he served as a postdoctoral researcher and research scientist at MIT for five years before finding his home at UCI in 1995.
His research involved applying intelligent systems and advanced computation to problems in molecular biology. He had broad interests in computational molecular biology, including research interests in protein structure prediction from sequence, protein-DNA interactions and genetic regulation, rational drug design and discovery, and other molecular structure/function relationships. He also had broad interests in intelligent systems, especially machine learning, constraint systems, and optimal heuristic search. More recently, he had explored DNA self-assembly, with applications to nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Lathrop was a life member of the American Society for Artificial Intelligence and the International Society for Computational Biology, of which he was a founding board of directors member. He received Best Paper Awards from the International Conference on Genome Informatics and the ACM/IEEE International Design Automation Conference, an Innovative Application Award from the AAAI/IAAI Conference, a Graduate Fellowship and a CAREER grant award from the National Science Foundation, an Innovation Award from UCI, and a Research Award for Discovery from the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. His research has been on the cover of AI Magazine, the Journal of Molecular Biology, and Communications of the ACM.
During his career, Lathrop was awarded several patents and was known as a serial entrepreneur who co-founded biotech companies, including Arris Pharmaceutical Corp. (subsequently Axys Pharmaceuticals Inc.; now part of Celera Genomics Group), CODA Genomics Inc. (now Verdezyne Inc.), Actavalon Inc., and Group IV Biosystems. He also served on the Scientific Advisory Boards of CombiChem Inc. (now part of DuPont Pharmaceuticals Research Laboratories) and Geneformatics Inc. Those who knew him agreed that these entrepreneurial activities enhanced his contributions in the classroom and as a research supervisor.
– Matt Miller
Building the Genes of Tomorrow
This video from 2007 highlights Professor Richard Lathrop’s research into synthetic genes that led to the start up of CODA (Computationally Optimized DNA Assembly) Genomics Inc.