ISU receives $3 million grant for bioinformatics teaching and research

AMES, Iowa--The National Science Foundation has awarded Iowa State University a $3 million grant for graduate studies in computational molecular biology. The five-year Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) grant will support continuing growth in bioinformatics and computational biology at Iowa State.

The NSF grant was awarded to a faculty team led by Daniel Voytas, professor of genetics development and cell biology. It continues a $2.6 million IGERT grant awarded in 1999. That grant spurred Iowa State's development of a leading computational biology program -- a new discipline that uses computer science and statistics to decipher biological problems.

With the initial funding, Iowa State established an interdepartmental graduate program in bioinformatics and computational biology (BCB), and provided fellowships for 30 graduate students majoring in BCB, biophysics, chemical engineering, computer sciences, electrical engineering and genetics. It also funded computational biology hardware, software and support.

The 1999 grant spawned several related programs, including a summer institute that attracts many industrial and academic scientists, supports 10 students and helps to recruit top graduate students. The funding also laid the groundwork for faculty to garner a 2001 $1.76 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Multidisciplinary Graduate Education and Training grant focused on animal computational biology.

More than 80 faculty conduct bioinformatics, computational biology and biological statistics research at ISU, said Robert Jernigan, director of the Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics, which is part of ISU's Plant Sciences Institute.

"Iowa State has been extraordinarily successful in fostering a highly collaborative research environment, as evidenced by the large number of interdisciplinary research projects in bioinformatics and computational biology," Jernigan said. "This research helps ensure that ISU plays a leading role in systems biology and post-genomic science to enhance biological and agricultural developments, leading to sustained economic growth in Iowa."

"The new grant will be used to lead the field of computational biology into the next era of discovery and to educate a diverse group of professionals to spearhead this effort," he said.

To enhance minority education, Iowa State will begin a partnership with New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, while continuing existing partnerships with Tuskegee University in Alabama, and San Jose State University, California.

The Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University is dedicated to becoming one of the world's leading plant science research institutes. More than 200 faculty from the College of Agriculture, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Human Sciences and the College of Engineering conduct research in nine centers of the institute. They seek fundamental knowledge about plant systems to help feed the growing world population, strengthen human health and nutrition, improve crop quality and yield, foster environmental sustainability and expand the uses of plants for biobased products and bioenergy. The Plant Sciences Institute supports the training of students for exciting career opportunities and promotes new technologies to aid in the economic development of agriculture and industry throughout the state. The institute is supported through public and private funding.