New projects continue focus on collaborative research to address perplexing biological questions
Cell deposited in a biological matrix by a bioprinter.
Credit: Gabor Forgacs, Physics Department, University of Missouri
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced three new awards for its 2005 Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) program. Each of the five-year, $5 million awards will support research that employs interdisciplinary expertise and technologies to address a major biological question: How did life emerge? How do multicellular organisms assemble? How do biological systems use modularity?
Harold Morowitz of the Santa Fe Institute and George Mason University, together with his colleagues at the University of Colorado and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will inject a broad array of novel theory and experimental data to understand the chemical origin of life by using what is known about Earth’s pre-life environment. The project integrates knowledge and experts in biochemistry, computer simulation, genetics, geochemistry, microbiology and physics, combined with a modern understanding of complex systems, to provide a coherent account of how metabolism could have evolved.
David Galas leads scientists from the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Rochester Medical School in an in-depth look at how cellular and molecular pathways have developed to create functional, biological modules. In other words, can pieces and parts of cellular pathways be replaced, swapped or modified without degrading the whole system? The team of biologists, computer scientists and computational systems experts will “rewire” the molecular machinery of a laboratory strain of budding yeast to identify components that form modules with specific, transferable functions. Results of the research could be far-reaching for fundamental science and molecular medicine, as they will allow researchers to understand how healthy and diseased cells differ.
Gabor Forgacs at the University of Missouri, Columbia, heads a team that includes researchers from VaxDesign/Sciperio, Inc., the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, New York Medical College and the University of Utah. The project explores how individual cells self-assemble into functional organs. The researchers include biological and computational physicists, as well as molecular biologists and tissue engineers. The research could lead to novel approaches for organ transplantation technology and will aid a technique called “organ printing,” developed by Forgacs’ research group.
Since its inception in 2003, FIBR has committed to support 15, five-year projects totaling over $75 million. All FIBR endeavors address unanswered questions in the biological sciences by using innovative, cross-disciplinary approaches to create synergism among researchers who might not otherwise work in concert.