Moore Foundation Gives $5.6 Million to Caltech for New Center to Study Cell Regulation
Jul. 26, 2006
PASADENA, CA — The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded $5.6 million to the California Institute of Technology for the creation of the Center for Integrative Study of Cell Regulation. The goal of the center is to develop new computational methods for understanding how the many genes and proteins that make up individual cells work together to carry out specialized functions of different cell types, including neurons, plant cells, and bacteria.
According to Mary Kennedy, the founding director and Davis Professor of Biology at Caltech, the center will merge Caltech's existing expertise in computation and in cell biology for the pursuit of new knowledge in the biological sciences. "We've reached a turning point where the sequencing of genomes has led to identification of all the genes and proteins of several organisms, and we are now ready to put the pieces together," she explains.
Kennedy says that due to the sheer complexity and volume of information to be handled, application of advanced computational methods and significant computational power is important for further progress. Therefore, the types of problems the center scientists and engineers will work on will include development of algorithms for identifying, locating, and determining the shape and orientation of key proteins in high-resolution cryo-electron microscopic images of cells, and creation of computer programs to simulate complex biochemical signaling pathways in neuronal synapses.
Center personnel will help to develop methods for following the movement of individual cells within a developing embryo in a series of microscopic images and will construct new database architectures for organizing existing data about gene sequences so that comparisons can be made among similar genes in various species.
In short, the center will advance cell biology by introducing new computational methods that haven't previously been widely applied in the life sciences, Kennedy says.
The initial projects will include the modeling of spatial organization, assembly, and function of bacteria and viruses, led by Grant Jensen, an assistant professor of biology at Caltech; the modeling of biochemical mechanisms in brain synapses to better understand the chemistry of learning and memory, led by Kennedy; and the modeling of cell and tissue structure and gene expression during plant development, led by Elliot Meyerowitz, Caltech's division chair of biology.
Marianne Bronner-Fraser, Caltech's Ruddock Professor of Biology, will be involved in the development of a database for uncovering patterns in closely related organisms to better understand the functioning of genes in the evolutionary tree.
The codirector of the center will be Mark Stalzer, who is the executive director of the Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR) at Caltech. Three or four additional CACR personnel will also be involved in the application of computational methods and programming to problems in integrative cell biology.
During its initial five years of grant funding, the center will help to support the research of about five to ten laboratories in Caltech's Division of Biology and in CACR, which is housed in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. Other divisions may also be involved as the work progresses.
According to Kennedy, Caltech is in a unique position to create such a center because of its decades-old commitment to close interdisciplinary work among its faculty and research groups, and also because of its longstanding tradition of approaching biological research at the most fundamental levels.
"The future of biology is in the complex level of understanding that must be approached quantitatively, and with the aid of state-of-the-art computers," she says. "So this is a natural change in paradigms."
Established in September 2000, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation seeks to develop outcome-based projects that will improve the quality of life for future generations. It has organized the majority of its grant making around large-scale initiatives. It concentrates funding in three program areas: environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area.###