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Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

IU Bloomington and Purdue universities join efforts to strengthen the state’s economic development

Effort focuses on life sciences and informatics

Dec. 13, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University and Purdue University may be staunch rivals in the athletic arena, but these two major research-intensive, public universities are on the same team when it comes to expanding opportunities in life sciences and informatics in the state of Indiana.

The two institutions have jointly designed a new pilot grant program called Collaboration in Life Sciences and Informatics Research (CLSIR) to advance life sciences and informatics research and development in Indiana. Informatics is an evolving field that examines the impact of information technology and develops new uses for it in areas such as life sciences. IU recently launched a new Ph.D. program in informatics - the first of its kind in the nation.

Nineteen proposals were generated in the first round of competition under the CLSIR program. This follows on the heels of a successful pilot grant program in biomedical research between the IU School of Medicine and Purdue University. IU and Purdue jointly invested pilot funding of $250,000 in the CLSIR program, which has the overall objective of initiating research projects with potential to leverage external funding and spawn larger, ongoing research programs.

"The state must become more competitive in attracting external funding for its economic development activities," said Michael A. McRobbie, IU vice president for research and information technology. "The CLSIR program allows us to more effectively leverage the resources and strengths of both of the state's major research universities by providing initial support to innovative new collaborative projects in the life sciences and informatics -- projects that might not otherwise happen without the combination of skills from both institutions and in areas that are especially promising for economic development in the state."

Other states have identified the life sciences and IT as major catalysts for economic development, making collaboration even more important to ensure Indiana's efforts are competitive in these areas. "This collaboration between IU and Purdue brings together strengths from the state's two flagship research universities to build on the strengths in the life sciences corridor that extends from Bloomington through Indianapolis to West Lafayette," said Charles O. Rutledge, Purdue's vice president for research. "We view the research collaborations of our top professors as providing the state with a strategic advantage in today's and tomorrow's hypercompetitive global economy."

The successful projects chosen for CLSIR funding exhibited high scientific merit and involved roughly equal participation by Purdue and IU-Bloomington investigators. Sarita Soni, associate vice president for research on the IU Bloomington campus, emphasized the quality of the program. "It is clear from the teams selected to receive funding, that their collaborations will combine outstanding talents and resources, thereby increasing their competitiveness and success for federal funding."

"From a scientific point of view, the collaborations are wonderfully complementary," said Robert J. Bernhard, Purdue's associate vice president for research. "We have young faculty members from one institution working with senior researchers from the other institution, experimentalists working with computational scientists and scientists who have never worked together before. Taken together, these collaborations extend the life sciences and computational research reach and depth of both Purdue and IU."

The initiative makes use of an advanced infrastructure for research and collaboration that itself reflects a partnership of the two universities: the "IP Grid," a joint project that allows IU and Purdue researchers to connect to the national TeraGrid. The TeraGrid is the world's largest distributed cyberinfrastructure for open scientific research, and scientists have used its sophisticated computing, data storage and visualization systems to study genomes, brain function, and diseases. In August 2005, both IU and Purdue received additional funding from the National Science Foundation for improvements to the TeraGrid which was first initiated in October 2004.

Five projects will receive funding from the first-round of the Collaboration in Life Sciences and Informatics Research (CLSIR) Program:

  • Principal Investigator: John K. Colbourne, genomics director and assistant scientist, Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics and Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, IU Bloomington. Collaborators: Hugo Ochoa-Acuna, assistant professor, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University; and Maria S. Sepúlveda, assistant professor, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University. Colbourne's team plans to develop and sequence DNA libraries for genes belonging to a crustacean known as "Hyalella azteca", a species that environmental protection agencies often use to evaluate the toxicity of sediments in freshwater ecosystems. The libraries will enable scientists to develop microarrays that can efficiently measure the regulation of genetic networks and determine the mode of action of environmental toxins. The work could eventually expand the applications of microarray technology to environmental health issues, which is analogous to current applications in diagnosing several human diseases.
  • Principal Investigator: Matthew W. Hahn, assistant professor, Department of Biology and School of Informatics, IU Bloomington. Collaborator: Katy L. Simonsen, assistant professor, Department of Statistics, Purdue University. Hahn's team intends to advance techniques for gene mapping, an endeavor that has been called one of the major achievements of modern biological research. Gene mapping has identified many genes responsible for human disease and adaptive variation between species; but with improvements to genotyping technology, the resulting wealth of information has brought with it difficulties in efficiently using all of the data. The team intends to apply more appropriate statistical methods to genetic data analysis that will allow scientists to make better sense of their increasingly large data sets.
  • Principal Investigator: Zhao-Qing Luo, assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science, Purdue University. Collaborator: Lingling Chen, assistant professor, Department of Biology, IU Bloomington. Luo's team is examining the function of a particular bacterial protein known as SidF, which may play a crucial role in counteracting our bodies' defense against bacterial infection. Preliminary work seems to indicate that the protein stops a certain kind of bodily defensive cell, called a macrophage, from undergoing apoptosis - or programmed cell death - after it has been infected. A better understanding of SidF could tell us more about how our body defends against infection as well as how the infectious agent establishes a successful infection in general.
  • Principal Investigator: Michael Lynch, Distinguished Professor, Department of Biology, IU Bloomington. Collaborator: James Forney, professor and head, Department of Biochemistry, Purdue University. Lynch's team aims to elucidate a still poorly-understood aspect of DNA splicing in cellular nuclei. A cell's genes often contain a great number of "introns," sequences that may contribute to adaptive evolution due to their production of novel proteins. In human cells introns can outnumber other sequences by 30 times or more. To advance our knowledge of evolutionary genomics, the team will examine intron function in the single-celled paramecium.
  • Principal Investigator: Jun Xie, assistant professor, Department of Statistics, Purdue University. Collaborators: Haixu Tang, assistant professor, School of Informatics, IU Bloomington; Michael Gribskov, Professor of Biological Sciences, Purdue University; Sun Kim, Assistant Professor, School of Informatics, IU Bloomington; Jing Wu, assistant professor, Department of Statistics, Purdue University. Xie's team proposes to improve our ability to predict gene expression in our cells, a process controlled by the binding of regulatory proteins to specific elements in our genes. Although this matching of gene with protein can in theory be predicted with computer models, in practice the algorithms used for such prediction have not functioned well. Xie's team hopes to bring a more dynamic approach to the problem so that we can better understand this important genetic process.