News Service


Dan Voytas, Zoology and Genetics, (515) 294-1963
Glenda Webber, Biotechnology, (515) 294-4749
Steve Sullivan, News Service, (515) 294-3720


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University has received a five-year, $2.4 million National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) grant for computational molecular biology. The grant will provide ISU students with equipment and training necessary to make biological discoveries with mathematics and computer science.

NSF today announced it will award a total of $55 million in IGERT grants to 21 doctorate granting institutions.

The ISU grant, secured by Dan Voytas, an associate professor of zoology and genetics, is part of ISU's effort to bring the emerging field of bioinformatics to the university. Bioinformatics is the practice of solving scientific problems using computers and other computational tools in addition to traditional laboratory techniques.

"In the past few years, vast amounts of scientific data have been generated. We now have access to large amounts of data on the DNA sequence of entire genomes of specific plants and animals, and data on gene function is becoming available," Voytas said. A genome is an organism's entire collection of genes. "At ISU, students will have an unprecedented opportunity to study all maize genes in a database researchers are creating. Similar projects exist for swine and cotton."

As part of the IGERT grant, 25 ISU scientists in the evolutionary, molecular and structural biology, computer science, mathematics and statistics have formed interdisciplinary teams. These teams will work with students. The faculty will mentor approximately forty Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers.

Ph.D. students in bioinformatics will work with three faculty members during their first year of study to establish expertise in wet and dry lab techniques. Over the summer, they will have opportunities to intern in the biotechnology industry. During their second year, fellows will initiate research projects with two mentors, one with expertise in the biological sciences and the other in computational science.

Several new courses have been added in computational molecular biology, and an interdepartmental specialization in bioinformatics will be launched in the 1999-2000 academic year. Additionally, three new computational biologists have joined the ISU faculty and additional hires are planned.

"ISU students are interested in computational biology -- a substantial number are already taking coursework in the field. This grant will provide us with an opportunity to formalize student training, strengthen faculty collaboration and bring expertise to the university," Voytas said.

Students with training in computational molecular biology are hot in today's job market. Biotechnology, pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies and academic institutions seek highly-trained scientists who can decipher the vast amounts of data generated from genome projects.

ISU received $500,000 in matching funds to support computational molecular biology from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.


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