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Bigelow Lab Expansion Will Yield Improved Facilities, New Hires for Genomics Center

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A $50 million expansion/relocation of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will mean improved facilities, five new hires, and possibly new equipment, for a component of the research institution, the Single Cell Genomics Center.

The genomics center will relocate from its current 700 square-foot space within Bigelow's existing facility in West Boothbay Harbor, Me., about 8 miles northwest to the 64-acre East Boothbay, Me., campus that will eventually house all of the laboratory's operations.

The first phase of that relocation is set for November 2011, when construction is completed on the $10 million first phase of the campus or Bigelow Center for Blue Technology, which includes SCGC and several other Bigelow facilities. There, the genomics center would occupy 1,100 square feet of laboratory space in a new building, plus offices and dedicated rooms for cryostorage and a computer cluster.

"First of all, the new space will enable us to maintain and expand our current research, which would be difficult in the current location," the director of SCGC, Ramunas Stepanauskas, told GenomeWeb Daily News. "In addition, the new space provides novel opportunities for technology transfer activities together with industrial partners."

While SCGC now occupies about 700 square feet of lab space, the size of the space is less a problem than its quality, according to Stepanauskas. SCGC's operations are now spread among three structures — a former truck garage and two modular houses — on the current campus, which Bigelow Lab leases from Maine's Department of Marine Resources.

"Not surprisingly, the infrastructure inside these buildings and the need for walking between the buildings with sensitive samples is not ideal for SCGC operation," Stepanauskas said. "The new facility will consolidate SCGC under one roof and will include state-of-art air handling for the SCGC clean room and a dedicated space for a computer cluster, both of which are critical to our work."

Stepanauskas is one of two senior research scientists within SCGC, whose workforce includes a research scientist, two postdocs, and four technicians.

"In the next five years we expect hires of two additional postdocs and three additional support staffers," Stepanauskas told GWDN.

SCGC's new space, he added, could see new equipment as well.

"Pending funding, additional equipment may include a greatly expanded computational center, a next-gen DNA sequencer, an anaerobe chamber, next-gen cell/liquid handling instrumentation, and additional sample storage capacity," Stepanauskas said.

SCGC's current equipment includes MoFlo (Beckman Coulter) and inFlux (BD) cell sorters; a BD FACScan cell counter; a FlowCAM imaging cytometer; bright-field and epifluorescence microscopes; Bravo (Agilent Technologies) and Freedom EVO (Tecan) robotic liquid handlers; a high-throughput plate reader (BMG); LC480 (Roche) and IQ5 (Bio-Rad) real-time PCR cyclers; and a small computer cluster.

In addition to SCGC, the Bigelow Center for Blue Biotechnology would feature an expanded Provasoli-Guillard National Center for the Collection of Marine Phytoplankton, several laboratories, offices, conference space, and a cafe. Bigelow Lab administrators and local dignitaries joined in a Sept. 7 groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction on BCBB.

In 2005, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) secured $1.46 million in federal funds toward Bigelow's purchase of the new East Boothbay campus site from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Private contributions of $1.5 million completed the purchase.

Last year, Bigelow Lab received funding toward BCBB when it won a $4.45 million Maine Technology Asset Fund award from the Maine Technology Institute, an industry-led non-profit corporation created by the state to advance tech research and commercialization in Maine. The fund is a two-year, competitive award program created by a $50 million economic development bond approved by Maine's state Legislature and voters in 2007.

BCBB will consist of a single 25,600-square-foot building to contain approximately 17,000 square feet of laboratory space to house 24 senior researchers and their science staff, as well as more than 8,000 square feet to house support infrastructure.

Bigelow Lab says its long-range plan for the Ocean Science and Education Campus is to build three interconnected science "wings" — the BCBB is the first of these; the two other science wings planned for the campus will be the Center for Ocean Health and the Center for Ocean Biogeochemistry and Climate Change.

Future plans for the campus include a fourth administrative wing with a public auditorium, a shore facility and dock for research vessels, education facilities, and housing for visiting scientists and students.

When completed, Bigelow Lab will occupy 16 of the campus' 64 acres to be developed to the second-highest "gold" Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. The laboratory says the remainder of the property will be preserved as wildlife habitat, wetlands, and open space, including more than a mile of public walking trails to be maintained by the Boothbay Region Land Trust.

The private non-profit Bigelow Lab expects the new campus to help it grow its revenues from $13 million to $28 million, and from 100 to 200 direct and indirect jobs. Over the next five years, the new campus is expected to attract $34 million in new investment to Maine through activities that include generating new patents, licensing new technologies, developing products, and creating startup companies, according to the Lincoln County Economic Development Office.

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