Athens, Ga. – Ying Xu, director of the University of Georgia’s Institute of Bioinformatics, an authority on microbial genomic structures and pathway prediction, and Eberhard Voit, director of Georgia Tech’s Integrative BioSystems Institute, an expert on computational modeling of biological networks, have been awarded the first University System of Georgia Inter-institutional Collaborative Research Grant. They will use the $100,000 grant to develop novel techniques for integrating computational models that help to predict and understand the organization and functions of biological pathways and networks in microbes.
The USG grants benefit existing cross-university research projects involving investigators from at least two USG universities. Funds may be used to hire staff and postdoctoral fellows or to cover other costs critical to the collaboration.
“We appreciate the vision of our USG leaders-not only for providing this novel support for collaboration between Georgia’s research universities-but also for recognizing the strategic importance of computational biology in today’s world,” said David Lee, UGA vice president for research. “The work of Drs. Xu and Voit is first-class and well-deserving of this new support.”
For a systems model, researchers will use Lactococcus lactis, an ancient and well-studied bacteria extensively used in the dairy industry, to explore whether or not it’s possible to computationally predict and model genetic pathways, networks and their regulations based on information derived from genome sequences, gene expression data and metabolite data. They say the outcome could provide an effective computational method for elucidating biological pathways and networks in a systematic manner based on the available data. They also hope to gain a better understanding about the design principles of biological systems.
Systems biology research, driven by the availability of unprecedented amounts of biological data-and a dramatic increase in the computational power provided by computers-is now expanding far beyond the traditional study of individual genes, proteins and molecular interactions to investigate the organization and behaviors of complex biological systems.
“The field of bioinformatics is evolving toward the discovery of complex patterns hidden in the massive genomic data being generated through high-throughput measurement technologies,” said UGA’s Xu. “The discovery of general design principles of biological systems may help explain why a biological system is organized in a particular fashion.”
Xu said that before they can proceed in uncovering “generalities,” the scientists will first analyze successful case studies provided by nature, beginning with microorganisms that have survived millions, or perhaps billions, of years of evolution. That’s the rationale for using Lactococcus lactis, which in addition to being used for centuries to produce buttermilk, yogurt and cheeses, also has been used extensively for research purposes.