MANASSAS, Va.--The world's largest and most diverse archive of biological materials, the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), settled into its new 100,000-square-foot, $18 million facility on the Prince William Campus of George Mason University here last weekend, in a move that will contribute to making the university's Institute for Biosciences, Bioinformatics, and Biotechnology--known as IB3--a hub of bioinformatics research in the region.
The Commonwealth of Virginia and Prince William County have committed more than $50 million to the construction of three new buildings on the campus that will house IB3, including the culture collection laboratories and training center, and turn the campus into what Prince William County publicists have called an "entrepreneurial center in pursuit of academic excellence."
Clark Tibbetts, IB3's director, known in the genomics community for his work at Vanderbilt University developing throughput technology for large-scale sequencing, said at the time of his hire a year ago that IB3 will be committed to making "a significant and broad contribution to the biosciences of the next century."
"Our commitment to research in genome informatics and technology anticipates radical paradigm shifts, as biology enters a computationally driven, post-genome era, and as computational technology continues to wrestle imaginary limitations into realistic performance," Tibbetts said. "Our programs will be organized for research and development of hardware for data production and software for analytical throughput."
Under Tibbetts's direction, IB3 will build relationships with ATCC and Prince William County for educational programs, life science research and development, and the creation and commercialization of intellectual properties. He will also oversee comprehensive efforts in workforce training; professional education and community service; and the collaborative development, application, and distribution of innovative biotechnology, according to a university spokesperson.
Immediate goals include pursuit of overlapping research projects with ATCC in bioinformatics and computational biology, microbial genomics and diversity, and eukaryotic genomics and diversity.
Aside from the potential economic development advantages that motivated state and county officials to back IB3, computational biology scholars here say the ATCC "microbial zoo" is also a boon to George Mason's separate Institute for Computational Sciences and Informatics, which houses the school's bioinformatics PhD program. "ATCC provides the raw materials for bioinformatics," Professor Jim Willett said. The industrial alliances IB3 expects to attract might also provide scholarships for more students.
George Michaels, associate professor and head of the bioinformatics PhD program, which was the country's first, told BioInform he has had to turn away applicants. With minimal recruiting and no advertising, Michaels has enrolled 27 PhD candidates--his first two students graduated last summer--and he continues to receive applications from students at top research labs around the world. "We don't have enough fellowships," he said.
Michaels said Silicon Graphics already selected George Mason to conduct its bioinformatics training program and recently installed computer equipment on the campus. And large-scale sequencing and screening operations being set up at the IB3 campus will become the R&D site for his own students.
"We've got a lot of horsepower around here," said Willett.
That's attractive to industry, and good for scholars. "Quite a number of companies have expressed interest in supporting students," he said.
Michaels declined to comment on specific industrial alliances that are in the works, but said "most will be with life sciences instead of pharmaceuticals." And, he added, they will be names that everybody recognizes.
More information on IB3 is available at http://www.IB3.gmu.edu.