With the objective being to kick-start the next generation of cutting-edge genomics research, components of The Texas A&M University System (TAMU) have chipped in to create the largest internally funded genomics research grant program of its kind, according to a TAMU Agrilife Today report.
The funding, which totals some $1.26 million, will come from Texas A&M University and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dwight Look College of Engineering, Division of Research, Whole Systems Genomics Initiative and Texas A&M Health Science Center, along with the A&M System’s Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.
“This is truly an exciting period at Texas A&M. We are bringing together world-class scientists from across the system to explore the very foundations of life and solve some of the greatest challenges facing mankind, from human health to world hunger. This program serves a unique role for our scientists, providing those all-important funds to grow our genomics and bioinformatics research programs” says Texas A&M System chancellor John Sharp. “Joint efforts such as this pave the way for basic and applied research discoveries that will benefit all of humankind.”
Grants from the fund will target the generation of preliminary data, building collaborative teams and/or training programs in genomics and bioinformatics, according to Dr. Charles D. Johnson, director of Genomics and Bioinformatics Services for AgriLife Research, and associate director of the new A&M System’s Center for Bioinformatics and Genomic Systems Engineering. “The program goals are to provide faculty with preliminary results for future grants submissions that will allow them to begin using or expanding their work in human, plant and animal genomics and the associated societal challenges,” Johnson notes inan Agrilife Today release. “This is a tremendous example of our system’s commitment to new discovery and serving the people of Texas as well as the nation,” comments Chancellor Sharp.
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved establishment of the Center for Bioinformatics and Genomics Systems Engineering on August 8, to be a joint center of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
The center will conduct research in bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, and systems engineering as they relate to human and animal health, medicine, and agriculture, serving communities across the state of Texas and beyond. “The Center for Bioinformatics and Genomics Systems Engineering brings together two significant strengths within the engineering and agriculture programs to use bioinformatics and genomics to directly improve the health of animals and humans” comments Dr. M. Katherine Banks, TEES director and vice chancellor and dean of engineering at Texas A&M in a release. “With the combined strengths in AgriLife and TEES, this center is poised to become the global leader in the application of bioinformatics, computational biology and systems engineering.”
The center will feature 7,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory space, a greenhouse and offices for faculty and graduate students.
“The program goals are to provide faculty with preliminary results for future grants submissions that will allow them to begin using or expanding their work in human, plant and animal genomics and the associated societal challenges,” Johnson noted.
Texas A&M AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service was established thru a mission directive from Dr. Craig Nessler, Director of AgriLife Research to radically improve genomic research across AgriLife, COALS, and the Texas A&M University System, addressing a central and pressing need for access to the latest genomic technologies, and world-class laboratory and bioinformatics expertise. To meet this ambitious goal, AgriLife Research brought together a team of leading genomics, bioinformatics, molecular, and computational scientists to meet the next generation sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatics needs of the TAMU system and broader scientific community. The new AgriLife unit received start-up funds from Texas Emerging Technology Fund as part of a larger AgriLife ETF program.
“Joining teams of agriculture and engineering researchers together can only hasten the discoveries that will yield results to improve the lives of people worldwide,” said Dr. Nessler.
The new AgriLife unit is directed by Dr. Charles D. Johnson, who was recruited from the biotech industry to launch the new genomics technology and bioinformatics service. With over 20 years of scientific research and operational leadership experience, Dr. Johnson came to TAMU Agrilife with an established track record in genomics and bioinformatics R&D, and assembled a team of Agrilife scientists drawn from an array diverse backgrounds and allowing them to quickly catalyze activity across a broad spectrum of research areas, assuring a high return for each research dollar and generating significant scientific discoveries.
The group has built a collaborative network of over 400 scientists spanning the entire TAMU system, along with a growing number of private sector life science and agricultural companies. Investments in personnel and equipment have been critical to providing genomics and bioinformatics infrastructure for student training, faculty retention and successful R&D initiatives in the areas of agriculture, life sciences, human health, and veterinary medicine.
Agrilife is supported by over 475 researchers drawn from some 28 departments, 8 colleges, and multiple agencies across TAMU and Health Science Center, and has been involved in 210 submissions, resulting in tens of millions in new funding being made available for scientists across the TAMU system. The department has added Illumina HiSeq 2500 and MiSeq systems, established a Marker Assisted Breeding program, and has operated at or near capacity from inception, with fully staffed laboratory and bioinformatics team. It has launched highly successful genomic seed grant program that produced largest response in AgriLife history, and its vision is to become the number one genomic and bioinformatics academic service provider through providing superior quality service, innovation, and technical excellence toward meeting the needs of scientists across the Texas A&M System, Texas and world. Agrilife’s Main offices are located in room 176 and it’s Laboratory in room 124 of the Norman E. Borlaug Center at 2132 TAMU College Station.
The program will include a suite of four subcategories of grants. Each category focuses on a specific funding need. The details and request for proposals for the individual grant programs and eligibility requirements will be announced in the coming weeks.
• Texas A&M Genomics Seed Grant: Funding for next generation sequencing and bioinformatics support through the AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service.
• Genomics Technology Seed Grant – Funding computational and systems biology research, and genomics and computer technology development through the Engineering Experiment Station and Look College.
• Whole Systems Genomics Initiative Catalyst Grant: Supporting genomic research spanning discovery science to the ethical, social, legal and policy challenges that arise as new genomic discoveries profoundly impact animals, people and the environment on a global scale.
• Genomics of Plant Water Use: Funding for next generation sequencing and bioinformatics support through the AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Services.
Questions about the overall program should be directed to Dr. Johnson at 979-862-3287, or email Charlie(at)ag.tamu.edu.