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Biological Sciences
We perform Biological Systems Science research using prediction and experimentation to understand the design of biological systems, translating the genome to functional capabilities for applications to energy, environment, and health. Microbial community research at PNNL is focusing on environment and energy processes, and rational design and development of new bioprocesses, while our health-related research is centering on how multicellular systems, tissues and organisms respond to disease and exposure to the environment.

Aluminum EXAFS and zeolite structure

Creating a GPS for Aluminum Ions

Employing a combination of methods devised at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Swiss Light Source, scientists determined the distribution of aluminum ions in zeolites, which are widely used by industry. In the first example of this approach, the scientists analyzed two chemical compositions of a structural variant. They found that the aluminum atoms, which are critical to the catalytic activity, preferentially replace silicon atoms at certain sites.

Premature baby

Mapping Molecules in the Human Lung

A team of PNNL scientists will perform an unprecedented, systematic study, mapping the molecular components of normal lung development during late term and early childhood. They recently were awarded $4.5 million over 5 years by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to develop a molecular atlas of the developing human lung (LungMAP). Lung development from 4 months before birth through 2 years of age is crucial to the lifelong health of an individual and remains the critical factor in newborn viability. However, little is known of human lung development at this critical period. Thus, expanding understanding of early human lung development is key to promoting proper lung formation in preterm infants and has significant implications toward reducing their high mortality rate.


PNNL Team Wins R&D 100 Award for SALVI

A small window to the world of liquid interfaces has won an R&D 100 Award for a team of PNNL researchers. Xiao-Ying Yu, Zihua Zhu, Bingwen Liu, Martin Iedema and Matthew Marshall of PNNL and collaborators James Cowin and Li Yan developed the System for Analysis at the Liquid Vacuum Interface (SALVI), a novel innovation that allows a new level of molecular insight and liquid analysis that can be deployed in a range of instruments.

SALVI technology

Window into Liquid Analysis Earns PNNL an R&D 100 Award

Many studies rely on knowing precisely how solids and liquids interact on a molecular level, but liquids evaporate in the vacuum of certain powerful scientific instruments. PNNL developed SALVI, or the System for Analysis at the Liquid Vacuum Interface, that for the first time allows these instruments to image liquid samples in real time. R&D Magazine honored SALVI’s research team with a 2014 R&D 100 award. The magazine selects the 100 most innovative scientific and technological breakthroughs of the year.

A Bug's Leaf

A team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center is using metabolomic and metaproteomic techniques to examine the dynamics of nutrient turnover in the gardens of leaf-cutter ants. These herbivores, found in ecosystems throughout the Neotropics, feed on fungus gardens cultivated on fresh foliar biomass. The team found that many free amino acids and sugars are depleted during biomass degradation, indicating that easily accessible nutrients from plant material are readily consumed by microbes in these ecosystems. These studies provide insights that could lead to technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

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