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Kansas Biodiversity Center Gets NSF Funding for Renovations

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Using federal stimulus funds as well as its own money, the University of Kansas over the next three years will renovate the century-old home of its Biodiversity Center, modernize its facilities and equipment, as well as step up its training of graduate students.

KU has won a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation toward repair and renovation costs at Dyche Hall directly related to research, including architectural and engineering plans and fees, demolition and removal, construction, and fixed lab equipment such as benches, cabinets, and fume hoods. NSF awarded its grant through its Academic Research Infrastructure: Repair and Renovation program, funded by the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The university will use other funds to purchase equipment and upgrade the building's infrastructure, including $1.3 million of its own money for new electrical, cyber, and heating and air conditioning systems.

Construction is set to start in November and conclude by 2013.

Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute, told GenomeWeb Daily News the renovations will include a revamping of the Genomics Complex that will add to its capabilities. A second sequencing lab will complement the institute's current amplification lab, while a set of freezers will be replaced with a new liquid nitrogen cryogenic facility that KU says will improve its ability to preserve its collection of 80,000 tissues.

The NSF grant will fund construction of the space, with the institute paying for the cryogenic facility's new dewars, racks, and other equipment through other funds.

NSF is also funding construction and fixed lab equipment of:

• A cloning lab for research into ancient DNA; the instruments will be paid for from other funds.
• New biotic and morphology analysis laboratories for research into the body and skeletal attributes of organisms.
• A geographic information systems (GIS) laboratory for analyzing and forecasting the potential spread of diseases and pests.
• A new data server room fives times the size of the current 94 nsf server room, which archives and feeds terabytes of biotic and other environmental research data to the institute and global community networks.

"All other renovations involve major improvements for enhanced capacity and capability to biocomputation, morphology, GIS, tissue preparation, and biotic analysis labs, all but two of which will also involve relocation from their current spaces. For all intents and purposes, these labs will be 'new,'" Krishtalka said.

The new data server room will contain 368 nsf for equipment, and another 120 nsf for mechanical systems. The current server room, originally designed for an office, "is too small for current and anticipated data storage and server needs, and has limited network capacity with only 12 100mb network jacks. It lacks sufficient electrical service and backup power to support the HVAC system, which, in turn, lacks humidity controls, redundancy, or fail-safe mechanisms that are standard for cooling server facilities," KU said in its application for the NSF grant.

"As a result, repeated electrical overloads have caused system failures and threatened the loss of mission-critical data," KU concluded.

Krishtalka told GWDN the extra server space is needed not only because of the explosion of sequencing data, but of "other kinds of data from biotic surveys, inventories of animals and plants, phylogenetic and morphological analyses, and GIS analyses combining biodiversity occurrence data with multiple layers of environmental data."

Setting aside space for servers was never envisioned when Dyche Hall was opened in 1903. The building – which houses the Natural History Museum as well as the biodiversity institute – is the second oldest building on KU's main campus in Lawrence, Kan., and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite additions in 1964 and 1996, Dyche Hall suffers from antiquated infrastructure and years of deferred maintenance, according to KU.

The institute now consists of 30 faculty/scientists, about 55 graduate students in residence conducting research on masters and doctoral projects, five and a half full-time equivalent administrative support staffers, and 15 scientific support staffers. The scientific support staffers manage labs, research facilities, biotic research collections of 8.8 million animals and plants, 1.2 million archaeological specimens, and associated biotic data.

Krishtalka said the institute has no immediate plans for increasing faculty/scientist positions.

"We do have a strategic plan to expand our biodiversity expertise in areas of undiscovered or poorly known animals and plants — essentially a genomic & nano/micro biological world — while maintaining critical mass in our areas of established excellence," Krishtalka told GWDN. "Depending on the university's economic climate, we hope to grow our numbers perhaps by as many as four faculty/scientists in the next five years."

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