Sandia National Laboratories’ recent announcement of its new biotech initiative was more self-affirmation than news. But it does prove that a little advance planning can go a long way. The initiative, a strategy for rounding up Sandia’s scattered biology efforts and coordinating them, started in April of 1999 at “a half-day meeting of the senior management,” according to Len Napolitano, acting director in Sandia’s biosystems research department.
“At the beginning, it was more or less a gleam in the eye of Sandia leadership,” agrees Julia Phillips, director of the physical and chemical sciences center. By now, the initiative has seen a measure of success. Sandia scored the lead role in a collaboration for the DOE’s Genomes to Life project and is working on several of the other partnerships for the project.
“Proteomics is ultimately where this is all leading,” explains Danny Rintoul, manager of the computational biology department.
Sandia has also flexed its muscles with a microarray project and plans to develop proteomics instruments to work toward systems biology, Napolitano says. And now that bioterror applications have become such a prominent component of genomics and proteomics, he adds that the labs are “looking at protein signatures in organisms … to do detection of proteins or biotoxins that might be used as biological warfare agents.”
That said, Sandia has no illusions that it will transform itself purely to biology. “Sandia itself will not be the dominant player in biotech,” Napolitano says. “There are very few of these biology projects that we’re working on that don’t have a partner” — a university or another lab, for instance.
“There is no one person or even one institution that could possibly do the whole thing, or even a large chunk of it,” says Phillips.