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Rutgers to Construct $55M Proteomics Building Where Existing Research Can Be Consolidated


Rutgers University will spend $55 million to construct a building for a new proteomics facility on its Piscataway, NJ, campus that will house NMR, X-ray crystallography, mass spectrometry, and computational biology resources.

Rutgers is already home to the Protein Data Bank, a data repository for 3D structures of macromolecules; the Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium, a large, multi-institutional project aimed at determining large numbers of protein structures; and the BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology, which aims to promote research and education at the interface of biological, mathematical, and physical biology.

The new facility, called the Center for Integrative Proteomics Technologies, will enable researchers involved in all three of those structural/computational biology endeavors to work in a single location, said Helen Berman, a professor of structural biology and the director of the Protein Data Bank.

"We've been doing this kind of structural/computational biology work for a long time, and we all joined forces with the idea that we should have a building that houses facilities to do this kind of work," said Berman. "This will be a facility that all of us use, and a place where we can bring new faculty recruits."

The university's conceptual plan calls for the new building to be three stories tall with 102,000 square feet of space, said Ronald Levy, a computational biologist who directs the BioMaPS Institute. The facility will house about 14 research groups that work both experimentally and computationally in the areas of proteomics, structural biology, and computational biology.

"This will be a facility that all of us use, and a place where we can bring new faculty recruits."

Berman said most of the 14 research groups will be headed by new faculty hires.

"There's an ongoing [faculty] recruitment that's going on right now, and having the ability to house new lab space is going to make a big difference," said Berman. "We have people in mind already, but I'm not going to disclose who they are."

Since Rutgers' Board of Governors voted last week to approve the construction, faculty involved in putting together the proposal for the project have been busy trying to determine who the building's architect will be, said Berman.

The ground breaking for the new facility is likely to take place in the fall, and if plans go according to schedule, the facility will be completed by 2008, said Levy.

The $55 million from university capital investment funds will cover only "bricks and mortar" for the new facility, said Berman. Funding for new faculty and staff, new equipment, and other aspects of the new facility will come from other sources, including grants.

"We'll have everything organized in a way that will make it much easier to get the data that we need," said Berman. "The most important thing is not so much the instrumentation as having a common area for people to work in, to talk to each other, and to teach each other. As part of the facility, there will be a lot of comfort space and meeting space."

The first formal proposal for the new facility was put together in 2003. According to Levy, during the fall of that year, Rutgers recruited some members of the National Academy of Sciences to review a variety of proposals from members of the university, and the proposal to build a Center for Integrative Proteomics Technologies rose to the top.

"One of the other projects that was favorably viewed by the university involved advanced materials — nanodevices and nanotechnology," said Levy. "But they are not at the level of organization and visibility that structural biology is."

Established in 1971, the Protein Data Bank is a high-visibility resource, said Berman. According to the PDB website, the data repository now contains about 36,000 structures, and an average of 2.2 structures are downloaded every second. Groups around the world work together to maintain the PDB archive housed at Rutgers.

"There's an ongoing [faculty] recruitment that's going on right now, and having the ability to house new lab space is going to make a big difference. We have people in mind already."

The Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium, headed by Gaetano Montelione, is also a high-profile project. The consortium is largely funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences as part of its 10-year Protein Structure Initiative, a $600 million project launched in 2000 to determine the three-dimensional shapes of 4,000 to 6,000 unique proteins (see ProteoMonitor 2/18/2005). It is the only large-scale center funded by the PSI that has a strong NMR component (see ProteoMonitor 7/22/2005).

The BioMaPS Institute is home to a PhD program in computational biology and molecular biophysics. The program is currently in its fourth year, with about 30 students enrolled, in total. Students in the BioMaPS program will definitely use the new facility, in addition to students from other graduate programs in the life sciences and physical sciences, said Levy.

The new Center for Integrative Proteomics Technologies will be located adjacent to both the life sciences building at Rutgers and the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, which is a joint endeavor of Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The physical location of the new center may be symbolic of proteomics serving as a common ground between Rutgers and UMDNJ, said Levy.

"There have been rumors that Rutgers and UMDNJ may join together into one institution," he said. "The opening of the new proteomics building may be timed just right to happen when the two institutions join together."

New Jersey neighbor Princeton University opened its Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrated Genomics in 2003, where researchers do work in proteomics and functional genomics. But "the scope and breadth of what they're doing is not as great as what we're doing," said Berman.

— Tien-Shun Lee ([email protected])

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