Virginia Tech President Charles Steger announced to the university's board of visitors today that the university and The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) of Rockville, Md., have signed a memorandum of understanding. The new alliance will enrich the university's basic research capacity in the life sciences and enhance TIGR's computational and experimental capacity, according to Steger and TIGR President and Director Claire M. Fraser.
The agreement anticipates joint research projects, shared use of related facilities, adjunct faculty appointments, and opportunities for students to participate in research. Building on the strengths of both institutions, it is anticipated that the focus of the joint research projects will be in the areas of microbial, plant, and animal genomics and functional genomics, which have many applications to human health, agriculture, and biodefense.
"This agreement between a leading research university and a leading research organization supports Virginia's biotechnology initiative," said Virginia Governor Mark Warner.
"This is a natural partnership that will enhance the achievements of both the university's and the institute's researchers," said Brad Fenwick, vice president for research at Virginia Tech. "By partnering, we will be able to offer research sponsors more resources and capacity to produce knowledge in a cost-effective and timely fashion. And, of course, combining the excellent skills of these two institutions allows us to address today's complex problems in a way that is difficult to match worldwide."
President Steger said, "The partnership with TIGR also greatly expands opportunities for students to work on critical research applications in the life sciences. The success of graduate education program depends upon students having an array of research opportunities."
Founded in 1992, TIGR (www.tigr.org) is a not-for-profit research institute whose primary research interests are in structural, functional, and comparative analysis of genomes and gene products from a wide variety of organisms. TIGR scientists have completed the genome sequence of many disease-causing microbes, including those that cause cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, meningitis, syphilis, Lyme disease, anthrax, Q Fever, ulcers, and African sleeping sickness, as well as a number of environmentally important microorganisms. TIGR also played a key role in sequencing the first plant genome, Arabidopsis thaliana, as well as deciphering the genome sequence of rice.
TIGR's bioinformatics department is creating and maintaining gene databases and has produced new software for finding genes in bacteria, plants, parasites, and other organisms, as well as software for identifying other important biological features of genomes. TIGR also operates two centers under contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: the Pathogen Functional Genomics Resource Center, which provides scientists with centralized resources needed to conduct functional genomics studies on a variety of pathogens; and a national Bioinformatics Resource Center (BRC), one of eight for the study of pathogens that are considered biothreat agents or are associated with emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases. Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech and its partners also operate one of the eight BRCs.
"There are clearly many areas of mutual interest and complementary capabilities at Virginia Tech and TIGR," said Fraser, who is a professor of pharmacology and microbiology at the George Washington University School of Medicine, as well as TIGR's president. "We are excited about formalizing this working relationship. In addition to the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, we look forward to working with Virginia Tech's considerable capacity in translational biology and high-end computing that is important for molecular biology. Both institutions' ground-breaking development of genomics and informatics tools for the life sciences is an example of how this cooperative effort can provide wider benefits for multiple scientific communities."
Steger noted that the university has done research with plants and animals since its founding in 1872 and has been at the cutting edge of using biotechnology and computational tools to protect animal and human life. The university is home to the Fralin Biotechnology Center and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, both of which are multi-million dollar research groups.
Bruno Sobral director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) (www.vbi.vt.edu) said, "This new development provides an opportunity to continue to expand collaborations between VBI and TIGR, such as in the newly awarded Bioinformatics Resource Centers, and to thereby move more rapidly and cohesively in providing solutions to the country's infectious disease and biodefense response infrastructure."
Established in 2000 as a Commonwealth of Virginia shared resource, VBI has a research platform centered on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions. VBI researchers are working on many human, crop, and animal diseases. Funded by the Department of Defense, VBI has developed and deployed a web-services-based informatics infrastructure, called ToolBus/PathPort, which combines distributed pathogen data with powerful analysis and visualization tools to build upon what is known and aid in discovery. In addition to the Bioinformatics Resource Centers, VBI also provides the genomics and bioinformatics research core for the 15-university Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases and the central proteomics biodefense database for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' seven new proteomics research centers. And VBI is one of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences' new research groups responsible for national efforts in infectious disease modeling. VBI is the only organization to be directly involved in all four of these crucial new biodefense-related networks funded by NIH.
"The Virginia Tech-TIGR agreement supports this administration's strategy to build the biotechnology infrastructure in Virginia," Governor Warner said. In a series of Executive Orders, Warner wrote, "The biotechnology industry has the potential to benefit agriculture, manufacturing, and marine-based commerce. To be competitive in growing and attracting this industry, Virginia needs a comprehensive and coordinated statewide strategy for biotechnology."
James Bohland, executive director of the National Capital Region and senior fellow for biomedical, bioengineering, and health projects at Virginia Tech, said, "The presence of a college of veterinary medicine and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute provides the university with the unique opportunity to undertake comparative approaches to systems of disease and health across multiple species. Building on those capabilities, Virginia Tech has made commitments to develop structures and provide resources that encourage and support interdisciplinary research in several critical health and medical areas. These efforts include the creation of the Fralin Biotechnology Center more than a decade ago, the recent establishment of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and the creation of the new Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences at the university to focus resources on related research. Strong collaborative agreements, such as with the Wake Forest School of Medicine, and now with TIGR, build on Virginia Tech's emerging research foundation in biomedical and health research."