UGA researchers working at the cutting edge of developmental biology now have a new way to collaborate and enhance their research. The recently formed Developmental Biology Alliance aims to unite scientists studying the development of organisms with colleagues who possess the skills and expertise to take their projects to the next level of discovery.
Developmental biologists worked together for years as part of an unofficial UGA group. In that time, they successfully pushed for the hiring of new biology faculty, engaged the public through lectures and symposia and brought high-profile researchers from around the world to UGA. Those researchers discussed the critically important scientific discoveries developmental biologists have made in diverse fields like genetics, embryology, stem cells, evolutionary biology and plant development.
Now, following nearly a decade of success as a small, but dedicated, assemblage of professors and research scientists, the program is ready to move to the next level.
“We decided in the last few years that we were mature enough as a group to evolve into something more formal and higher profile than ‘a group,’ ” said Nancy Manley, professor of genetics and chair of the newly formed alliance. “We were looking for a way to tie our various departments and research programs together into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
The alliance, which currently has nearly 35 faculty listed as members in nine departments and five colleges, will act as a conduit through which experts can share their ideas, allowing researchers from other fields to offer solutions. While the necessity of scientific collaboration may seem self-evident, it’s incredibly easy for scientists to become isolated from peers in other departments when they are juggling multiple projects at once or attempting to solve particularly difficult problems.
“Our job is to connect our faculty together to form these research groups so they can be successful and provide support for each other,” Manley said. “Someone might say to an alliance member that they need an expert in a specific field to make their research project work and that member will hopefully be able to connect them to someone on campus who can help.
“It puts an emphasis on relationships both within the alliance and between the alliance and other outside groups,” she said.
While the alliance is supportive of all developmental biology research endeavors, members have identified three areas of focus: aging and regeneration; evolution and development; and molecular and genetic mechanisms of development. Experts in these fields study everything from life’s smallest microorganisms to plants and animals.
Members decided to focus on these three areas not only because they play to the strengths of developmental biology faculty, but also because these fields are ripe with opportunities for basic and applied research, Manley said.
In all their efforts, researchers hope to illuminate the complex mechanisms that drive the growth and development of life on Earth. But in so doing, they also open the door for new treatments and cures to some of the world’s most debilitating diseases, she said.
“We have come to appreciate that understanding how organisms develop also provides critical insight into how various diseases develop-and therefore how to treat or prevent them,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “For example, many of the same genes that drive development also drive diseases such as cancer and hence become targets for intervention.”