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PNNL to play leading role in new biological sciences initiative

August 29, 2000 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Department of Energy and its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory announced today that each will take several actions designed to make PNNL a key player in the field of genome research and proteomics-a new area of scientific study that is ultimately expected to lead to breakthroughs in the areas of human health and environmental cleanup.

Mildred Dresselhaus, director of DOE's Office of Science, announced that the agency is launching a multi-million dollar, annual program at the lab to develop a new generation of biological instrumentation that is expected to accelerate proteomics research within the scientific community. Proteomics is the study of the role and function of proteins in living organisms under specific conditions. Dresselhaus also indicated it is DOE's intent for PNNL to join the prestigious Joint Genome Institute, which serves as the central research arm for DOE genomics research and already has provided much of the initial genome discoveries.

In addition, PNNL officials announced they are presenting to DOE for its consideration long-term plans for a major biological research program, including their vision for a new research complex at PNNL in Richland.

Dresselhaus was at PNNL Tuesday to participate in DOE's annual "On-Site Review" of the laboratory's programs and future plans.

"In partnership with the National Institutes of Health, DOE has just achieved one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the century-mapping the human genome," said Dresselhaus. "As we look to the future, we want to build on this accomplishment to better understand the roles and functions that genes and proteins play in humans and other living systems. Knowledge gained from this research is expected to lead to new understanding of how environmental contaminants impact human health and to the creation of new drugs to fight disease.

"We see Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a key player in accomplishing the goals of our life sciences program," she added. "This kind of research demands leading-edge tools and equipment, including high-performance computers and novel scientific instrumentation that can help us look at what is happening at the molecular and cellular level inside organisms. PNNL researchers already have made some extraordinary progress in developing new approaches for using mass spectrometry to address biological problems. The developments in the lab's mass spectrometry prototype technology provide us a rare opportunity to build on the amazing achievements already made this year in the genome project."

Dresselhaus noted that PNNL will bring specialized capabilities-in particular, unique instrumentation and techniques for looking at biological molecules, including proteins-to the strong gene sequencing and analysis capabilities currently housed within the Joint Genome Institute.

PNNL Director Lura Powell said the laboratory's proposed new biological research programs, including a possible new facility, are a natural extension of the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, or EMSL, which is located at PNNL and opened its doors in 1997.

"EMSL has been highly successful in its first years as a national scientific user facility. It's recognized as a significant user facility with an outstanding set of unique instrumentation and collaborative research tools for pursuing molecular level research," she said. "While we expect EMSL to continue playing a role in genome and other life sciences research, meeting the growing needs of the biological sciences community requires additional space and equipment.

"Building on EMSL's success, today we are proposing to DOE a new facility to house instrumentation developed here that is unavailable elsewhere in the world. This new technology will enhance significantly the ability of scientists to explore the functions of genes and proteins."

Powell acknowledged that any facility could take several years to design and build and will require DOE's approval and support.

Powell also noted that growing the laboratory's biological sciences research program will benefit the Tri-Cities and Hanford. "This investment will reinforce the scientific reputation of the laboratory and attract the best and brightest talent to this community," she said. "Our programs in biology also will bring an important new element to the growing high-tech industry of the Tri-Cities. In line with DOE's commitment to the future of this community, we believe these capabilities and our commitment to putting science and technology to work will provide new business opportunities for this area.

"And our research will play an important role in Hanford cleanup. Microbial systems can be used to clean up the environment, and understanding how they operate can help us design more effective cleanup technologies. Also, the better we understand how environmental contaminants affect the body, the better we can protect our workers and the community."

Tags: Energy, Environment, Fundamental Science, EMSL, Biology, Mass Spectrometry and Separations, Proteomics

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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