Since the ORNL Review last presented a snapshot of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's biological research program ("New Biology: Covering All the Bases," Vol. 34, No. 1, 2001), scientific advances have been occurring at a breathtaking pace. Researchers have completed sequences of the human, mouse, and multiple other animal, plant, and microbial genomes. Protein interaction maps have been published for the fruit fly, worm, and yeast, and molecular processes have been observed in cells using quantum dots. Computational tools and resources are now an integral part of biological research. Advancements in our ability to observe biological processes at the molecular level and to derive organizational and operational principles from the data through integrated informatics, modeling, and simulation are revolutionizing our understanding of biology and the environment in which we live.
ORNL's core expertise and worldwide reputation as a center of excellence
in environmental and biological research, because of our unique facilities
in the physical sciences and in the computational sciences, and because
of our long tradition of bringing productive interdisciplinary research
teams together, ORNL is helping to drive this revolution.
When the Department of Energy initiated the Genomics: GTL program, ORNL offered important capabilities to support the department's mission. Several of ORNL's mass spectrometers are now the workhorses for researchers tasked to establish a high-throughput pipeline for characterization of molecular machines. Cutting-edge research in molecular and cellular imaging is under way using ORNL's world-class electron and other microscopy capabilities. Our researchers are applying their pattern recognition methods and gene-finding skills, along with our high-performance computing resources, to annotations of hundreds of genomes in collaboration with other experts in the scientific community, thus enabling comparative genome analyses and new biological insights.
Working at the molecular level, we are nonetheless "thinking big." ORNL is pioneering the integration of modern biology and ecosystems research, based on the foundation of understanding molecular machines and molecular interactions. We are assembling a world-class team of environmental scientists, biologists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, computational scientists, and engineers, who can apply the principles of systems science and engineering and knowledge of their respective fields to grasp biological complexity and to apply ultimately the principles and mechanisms of biology in engineered systems.
The DOE Office of Science has proposed to build four major high-throughput biology user facilities as part of a 20-year plan for scientific facilities that will position the United States for leadership in 21st century science and technology. Our scientists—their facilities, partnerships, and research directions in systems biology, as summarized in this issue of the Review—are developing the technical foundations for these new facilities to support DOE's goals.
At ORNL we are building on five decades of excellence in biology and environmental science. We are proud of our past, and we are excited about the chance to participate in discoveries that surely lie just over the horizon.
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