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With $14.5M Grant, Duke’s Genome Institute Starts New Center

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The Center for Systems Biology at Duke University is the latest research unit to be inaugurated into Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. With a $14.5 million, five-year grant to establish a new national center for systems biology at the institute, the center will focus on bridging the gap between traditional experimental sciences and computational approaches in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of what goes on within biological networks on a system-wide scale.

“One of the great strengths is the broad background of our investigators,” says Philip Benfey, director of the new research group. The center’s faculty hail from backgrounds in computer science, math, statistics, engineering, and physics; Benfey hopes this will allow researchers with different backgrounds to engage more fearlessly and work together more seamlessly on interdisciplinary projects.

Research will focus on regulatory networks and the ways in which these networks operate on time scales that span minutes, days, and years. Some initial projects include research aimed at regulatory networks in yeast and mammalian cell cycles, development in plant roots and sea urchin embryos, and population variation in yeast and sea urchins.

The impetus to establish a systems biology research group stems from the existing Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The expertise of the researchers that make up the systems bio center will build on the CB2 through collaborations, Benfey says. The center promotes interaction among its scientists by providing tutorials, an open meeting format, and encouragement for communication between scientists.

“With systems biology … one starts with a parts list, and one looks for connections between those parts,” Benfey says. “To me it’s not a whole new way of looking at things per se. It’s a different approach that is very complementary to everything that we’ve done before.”

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