Associate Professor Eric Mjolsness received a five-year, $4.9 million award from the Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) program — a new National Science Foundation (NSF) program supporting biological research and outreach that crosses academic disciplines . Along with supporting key research at the university, the grants are an indicator of the rising profile of UCI's interdisciplinary studies in biology and computer science.
“The support from the National Science Foundation reflects the growing visibility of UCI's Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics,” said William H. Parker, vice chancellor for research, who oversees UCI's research institutes. “Receiving support from the new FIBR program is particularly rewarding and appropriate given the university's well-established multi-disciplinary approach to research and education.”
Pierre Baldi, director of the IGB, concurred. “Since its creation, the IGB's mission has been to foster innovative research and educational programs that apply computer science to health science research and applications.” Baldi is a professor in the School of Information and Computer Science (ICS) with a joint appointment in the College of Medicine. “FIBR's support isn't just welcome, given our common mission, it is also appropriate.”
Working with plant developmental biologist Elliot Meyerowitz at the California Institute of Technology, Mjolsness will provide a quantitative and cellular description of plant development based on advances in biological knowledge, microscopy, image processing and applied biomathematics.
“This work will allow us to create scientifically valuable computer simulations that help us understand how large numbers of genes and proteins coordinate their activities in living cells and multicellular tissues,” Mjolsness said.
Good simulations can help biologists prioritize their hypotheses or invent new ones, before testing them in the laboratory, Mjolsness explained. “This can greatly reduce the cost of making scientific discoveries. Eventually such discoveries could lead to new biotechnology for agriculture or medicine.”
The FIBR grant also will support outreach programs designed to introduce K-12 teachers and students to new techniques for understanding biology , culminating in a summer institute at UCI.
“Along with demonstrating how computer science applies to biology and the health sciences, we hope this grant will encourage more students underrepresented in the sciences to further their studies in computing and information technology,” said Debra J. Richardson, interim ICS dean. “We expect the outreach activities to culminate in a summer institute in which 30 high school students will learn about the latest research in plant growth and development.”