David Botstein, who with Stanford colleague Pat Brown helped pioneer the field of microarray analysis, helped usher in biology’s next phase last week at the opening of Princeton’s new Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, where he will serve as director beginning July 1.
This center, funded mainly with $59.5 million by insurance magnate Peter Lewis and $20 million from Carl Icahn, represents the culmination of a five-year effort to build a foundation for multidisciplinary scientific research and education within a shiny 21st century laboratory and classroom building.
“One of the great things about this institution is that there is no medical school and zero temptation to mix medicine with science,” Botstein said to a crowd of about 400 people, mostly Princeton officials and alumni, seated in the atrium of the new building. “This is pure science. I don’t mean anything negative about the idea that there should be science in medicine; there should be, but that was my previous job: this job is pure science.”
The center’s visionaries hope that the science practiced there will be more of the cutting-edge type Botstein and his colleagues cooked up on the West Coast. “We are not setting a place for traditional molecular biology,” said Shirley Tilghman, Princeton’s president.
In an effort to foster a space where such new biology will be practiced, architect Rafael Viñoly designed the genomics building to create space for interaction.
Additionally, in keeping with the “integrative biology” approach (a synonym for systems biology), faculty from diverse disciplines, including computer science, physics, economics, and chemical engineering, have already been brought on board along with molecular biologists. To this mix will be added experts in ecology and evolutionary biology, and chemistry, for a total of up to 15 research groups.
Of Lewis’ gift, $35 million was in the form of an endowment, which will be used to attract young scientists, “at the junior level,” Tilghman said.
The modular labs of the building are only now being completed, with microarray facilities still in the planning stages. The only physical evidence of the labs’ presence is in huge stainless steel benches attached to motion-dampening piston-like legs.
But DNA microarrays already have a presence at the center, as they figure prominently in the current work of two (in addition to Botstein) among the eight faculty. Acting director James Broach, a professor of molecular biology, is using yeast microarrays to map out the transcription and regulatory circuits in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Saeed Tavazoie, an assistant professor of molecular biology associated with the center, is also studying transcriptional networks on a global scale using yeast microarrays. Additionally, Tavazoie is using E. coli oligo chips to study DNA-protein interactions. He has found about 500 interaction sites and is now correlating this data to data about mRNA expression in E. coli.
To accommodate this research, the current microarray core lab at Princeton will be moved to the center. (See Lab Report, p. 6.)
This microarray work will provide one of the many inputs that Botstein hopes will, when combined and analyzed computationally, provide insight on the big picture of biology.
“The ultimate goals include the quantitation and dynamic prediction models of an organism’s function and regulation at the system level, made possible by the computer,” he said.
The majority of the finished parts of the building have been open for use by scientists since January. Botstein will occupy an office no bigger than the others, only set into a corner overlooking campus greenery.