UCI receives $7 million in new grants to advance biomedical research through computer science

December 05, 2003

Irvine, Calif., Dec. 5, 2003 -- UC Irvine's Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics (IGB) has been awarded four grants totaling nearly $7 million to further biomedical computing research and improve educational training.

Goals of the research include the development and use of mathematical modeling software for plant development, assembling long synthetic genes quickly and easily, and developing a new set of techniques for high-school and pre-service science teachers to improve students' understanding of developmental biology.

The grants include a five-year, $4.9 million award from the Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) program -- a new National Science Foundation (NSF) program supporting biological research and outreach that crosses academic disciplines. Along with supporting key research at the university, the grants are an indicator of the rising profile of UCI's interdisciplinary studies in biology and computer science.

"The support from the National Science Foundation reflects the growing visibility of UCI's Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics," said William H. Parker, vice chancellor for research, who oversees UCI's research institutes. "Receiving support from the new FIBR program is particularly rewarding and appropriate given the university's well-established multi-disciplinary approach to research and education."

Pierre Baldi, director of the IGB, concurred. "Since its creation, the IGB's mission has been to foster innovative research and educational programs that apply computer science to health science research and applications." Baldi is a professor in the School of Information and Computer Science (ICS) with a joint appointment in the College of Medicine. "FIBR's support isn't just welcome, given our common mission, it is also appropriate."

The $4.9 million FIBR grant was awarded to ICS associate professor Eric Mjolsness. Working with plant developmental biologist Elliot Meyerowitz at the California Institute of Technology, Mjolsness will provide a quantitative and cellular description of plant development based on advances in biological knowledge, microscopy, image processing and applied biomathematics.

"This work will allow us to create scientifically valuable computer simulations that help us understand how large numbers of genes and proteins coordinate their activities in living cells and multicellular tissues," Mjolsness said.

Good simulations can help biologists prioritize their hypotheses or invent new ones, before testing them in the laboratory, Mjolsness explained. "This can greatly reduce the cost of making scientific discoveries. Eventually such discoveries could lead to new biotechnology for agriculture or medicine."

The FIBR grant also will support outreach programs designed to introduce K-12 teachers and students to new techniques for understanding biology, culminating in a summer institute at UCI.

"Along with demonstrating how computer science applies to biology and the health sciences, we hope this grant will encourage more students underrepresented in the sciences to further their studies in computing and information technology," said Debra J. Richardson, interim ICS dean. "We expect the outreach activities to culminate in a summer institute in which 30 high school students will learn about the latest research in plant growth and development."

Mjolsness also received $150,000 in first-year funding from the National Institutes of Health to develop a computable, predictive scientific understanding of how cells may signal one another and interact. A total of $2.2 million may be made available as soon as next year pending the outcome of Mjolsness' current research efforts.

Two additional NSF grants raise the total of new federal funding obtained by the IGB in the last eighteen months to more than $14 million. The two grants will support the following:
THE INSTITUTE FOR GENOMICS AND BIOINFORMATICS: Founded in 2001, the institute is dedicated to promoting innovation at the intersection of the life and computational sciences. This includes the creation of electronic databases and computer modeling of biological systems such as genomes and protein sequences. To learn more about the institute, please visit: http://www.igb.uci.edu.

THE SCHOOL OF INFORMATION AND COMPUTER SCIENCE: Founded as a department in 1968, information and computer science became a school in December 2002. It is home to the largest computing program in the University of California system and leads innovative research into new information and computing technology, including studies of its economic, commercial and social impact. For more information, visit http://www.ics.uci.edu.

The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to the principles of research, scholarship and community. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,300 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.

UCI maintains an online directory of faculty available as experts to the media. To access, visit: http://www.today.uci.edu/experts.

University of California - Irvine

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