Chemists, biologists, computer scientists and engineers usually work independently, pursuing theirown research projects with their own tools and methods. But a $2.5-million grant will allow TheJohns Hopkins University to launch a new way of training tomorrow's scientists and engineers, bybreaking through some of the boundaries that traditionally divide the scientific disciplines.
The grant, to be provided over five years by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, will help establish theJohns Hopkins Program in Computational Biology. The program will have a special emphasis oncutting-edge genomics research, in which scientists sequence DNA from cells and viruses andthen use that information to solve the far more difficult questions of how cells assemble the largermolecules and complex structures that make them work.
It will be directed by Michael E. Paulaitis, professor and chair of the Department of ChemicalEngineering in the university's Whiting School of Engineering, and George D. Rose, professor ofbiophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Graduate studentsand postdoctoral fellows from throughout the university will be eligible to apply for the program.
The goal, organizers say, is not to attract new students into biological research but to give students from other scientific fields and the engineering disciplines the training and tools to tackletough biological problems. For example, computer scientists involved in gene research must learnto think of DNA sequences as more than just a series of ones and zeros in a machine; they need tounderstand the biological and chemical processes.
"We want to foster a program that utilizes the formally rigorous treatment that comes out ofchemistry and physics but where the subject matter is biology," says Rose. "The trick is toproduce scientists who can apply these formal techniques but who have the knowledge topreserve the richness and complexity of biological data."
This change in the way scientists and engineers are trained is imperative, Paulaitis adds. "We just can't make significant advances or do the important research we strive to do without thismultidisciplinary approach," he says. About 14 participants are expected to be enrolled in the new program at any one time; the firstgraduate students are expected to enter in the fall. Their specialized training will includeinternships at the Institute for Genomic Research, in Rockville, Md.
"I expect that the competition to participate in this program will be fierce," Paulaitis says."Students recognize this as a new and exciting area of research, and there are many high-qualitylabs participating in the program, working on important research problems in this area. This willbe a unique program, so we expect to attract and select the very best students."
Johns Hopkins is among six universities and educational consortia selected to receive theseBurroughs Wellcome grants since 1996, when the foundation launched a program called"Interfaces Between the Physical/Chemical/Computational Sciences and the Biological Sciences."
"These awards are intended to improve the interdisciplinary training of promising graduate andpostdoctoral students from the physical, chemical, and computational sciences so they can betterapply their unique knowledge and talents to biological problems," says Enriqueta C. Bond,president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. "We believe this is the only private program devotedto bridging the physical and biological sciences through institutional interdisciplinary traininggrants, and the awards help fill the gap left by federal funding efforts that are predominantly builtaround specific disciplines."
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation established to advance themedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities. It wasfounded in 1955 as the corporate foundation of the pharmaceutical firm Burroughs Wellcome Co.In 1993, a gift from its sister foundation in the United Kingdom, the Wellcome Trust, enabled thefund to become fully independent from the company, which was acquired by Glaxo in 1995.
Related Web Sites:
Johns Hopkins Department of Chemical Engineering: http://www.jhu.edu/~cheme/
Johns Hopkins Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry: http://biophysics.med.jhu.edu/
Michael Paulaitis' Home Page: http://www.jhu.edu/~cheme/faculty/paulaitis.html
George Rose's Home Page: http://www.jhu.edu/~biophys/Rose/rose.html
Materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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