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Identifying gene functions across biological scales

Complex systems at every scale of life, from cells to organisms to the global ecosystem, impact the movement of energy and materials. Understanding the intricate ways that interactions between genes and traits influence outcomes on the ecosystem scale can inform a range of solutions for issues such as removing carbon from the atmosphere through biological means, managing nutrient cycles, reducing mercury pollution, recovering from extreme weather events, and designing secure biosystems.

For instance, identifying and engineering genes in plants that allocate carbon to roots can increase biological carbon capture while creating hardier feedstocks for bioproduct and biofuels production. Also, tuning plants and their microbiomes for more efficient uptake of nitrogen will reduce the need to use nitrogen fertilizers that cause toxic algal blooms along national coastlines and waterways.



Addressing a critical bottleneck in biology

Although DNA sequences are readily available, connecting genes to desired traits in plants and microbes and determining the ecosystem effects of those gene functions is a challenge requiring extensive, integrated capabilities —from synthetic biology to largescale experiments in natural environments. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working to foster technological advances and accelerate identification of gene function, across species, across scales, and at low cost.

Molecules, cells and organisms—Evaluating gene effects through protein synthesis, promoter characterization, transposon library generation, and development of genetic systems for non-model organisms

Communities, synthetic environments—Defining and characterizing gene function in groups of organisms in controlled laboratory settings, from microfluidic platforms to greenhouse-based studies

Ecosystems, natural environments—Measuring and characterizing organisms across diverse natural biomes to enable population-scale studies and verification of gene function in the field

Analytical imaging and characterization—Developing and using new technologies  for phenotypic characterization of molecular and cellular systems

High-performance computing and simulation—Driving knowledge integration and discovery for defining gene function through supercomputing and explainable artificial intelligence

Comprehensive Capabilities

Recent Impacts