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Purdue Expands Bioinformatics Faculty After Completing Sequencing Facility

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.--In an effort to further develop its existing bioinformatics capabilities, Purdue University has been hiring new faculty and building more facilities for computational biologists. The new hires come after the completion of a DNA sequencing center within the past year which serves as the hub of bioinformatics activity on the campus. Randy Woodson, the university's associate dean of agriculture and director of agriculture research programs, told BioInform that Purdue's departments of computer science and statistics, along with the school of agriculture, jointly hired bioinformatics faculty, adding "significantly to our core strength in that area."

Within the past year, Purdue built its Agricultural Genomics Center to accommodate bioinformatics data management research, high-throughput DNA sequencing, and gene expression profiling using microarray technology. Some of the funding for the facility came from the National Science Foundation, which provided $1 million in seed money.

Bioinformatics, according to Woodson, plays a crucial role in the university's genomics efforts because managing the data generated from such projects is such a huge task. "Bioinformatics is going to bring to the table the computational aspects we need to handle all of this data and to make sense out of it," observed Woodson. Using a metabolic engineering example, he asked if a plant is requested genetically to produce large amounts of a certain compound, what does that do to the overall physiology and biochemistry of the plant? "There's only so much carbon so it has to divert it from some other pathway," he said. "That becomes a huge bioinformatics issue because you've got to model all of these things and you have to collect huge amounts of data to keep track of it."

Because of the various genome projects, the different scientific disciplines are being pulled closer together, as scientists with different areas of expertise are collaborating on these initiatives--raising more data issues. As scientists become more specialized, it becomes much more important for them to work with each other to solve problems. "For them to fully function and fully use their science, they're going to have to interact with the molecular biologist and now, the bioinformatics person," he commented.

Besides bioinformaticists, Purdue has also added seven new faculty in the agricultural genomics area, primarily in plant but also in microbial genomics. A tree genomics project, called the Hardwood Tree Regeneration and Improvement Center, has been established in cooperation with the US Forest Service. The university has also received a $2.2 million grant from the NSF to study genetic factors in crop stresses, including a drought stress gene sequencing component. That grant is part of a larger $8.4 million functional genomics of plant stress tolerance project by Purdue, the University of Arizona, and Oklahoma State University scientists.

--Matthew Dougherty

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