The boundaries between experimental and computational research, between traditional biochemistry, microbiology, ecology and evolutionary biology are being dissolved by interdisciplinary research enabled by genomic approaches to study biological systems.
ORNL systems genetics research spans multiple biological disciplines and is primarily supported by large U.S. Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research (BER) programs including the Bioenergy Science Center, the Plant-Microbe Interface SFA, CSiTE, as well as by individual investigator driven projects from DOE and other sponsors. Subject areas include biofuels and microbial engineering; the roles of individual microbial species and microbial communities in plant development and in large-scale processes; toxic metals cycling and bioremediation; and microbial roles in carbon and nitrogen cycles under climate change scenarios.
ORNL researchers study organisms (archea, bacteria, fungi) from a wide range of environments, including terrestrial geothermal and marine hydrothermal systems, soils and plant rhizospheres, subsurface aquifers and forests and bogs. A wide range of approaches are being used, from traditional cultivation and physiology studies to community diversity characteriztion, metagenomics and single cell genomics, integrated “omics” (transcriptomics-proteomics-metabolomics), and advanced cellular isolation and imaging.
Mouse genetics research involves collaboration with the University of Tennessee and is aimed at studying body responses to low doses of ionizing radiation. Research funded by other federal agencies includes studies of the human-associated microbes under the NIH Human Microbiome Project. Staff scientists in the Systems Genetics Group are integrated with the research end educational system at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) and our group includes several Joint Faculty appointees, as well as postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.