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Synthetic biology pioneer John Glass to kick off GenBioOrg seminar series


BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 14, 2010 – GenBioOrg, an organization for students in Virginia Tech's Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Ph.D. program, is hosting an invited speaker series for the spring 2010 semester that will feature an opening talk by John Glass, professor in the J. Craig Venter Institute's (JCVI) Synthetic Biology Group.

With expertise in molecular biology, microbial pathogenesis, and microbial genomics, Glass directs the Mycoplasma Biology team at JCVI, where he has led the mycoplasma minimal genome and genome transplantation projects and been a key scientist in environmental genomics and viral metagenomics work.

Glass will discuss his work on the “minimal genome project,” which has involved the identification of the smallest set of genetic components necessary to sustain life. Glass and his colleagues use Mycoplasma genitalium as a working model because of the bacterium’s small cellular genome. The team says they hope to find the smallest set of genes required to sustain life and build a completely synthetic genome for the bacteria. A minimal genome could provide the framework for a generic cell, which could be crafted for a variety of purposes such as the creation of biofuels and pharmaceuticals, as well as for other advanced biotechnology applications.

Glass’ talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held on Jan. 21, at 4 p.m. in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s conference center, which is located on Washington Street on Virginia Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg.

The seminar series will include talks by well-known researchers throughout the semester who are working in areas such as bioinformatics, synthetic biology, dynamical genomics, and systems biology. In addition to a lecture, each researcher will have the opportunity to meet with graduate students during their visits to campus.

The following is the complete schedule for the GenBioOrg seminar series for the spring semester:

  • February 2010: Ian Holmes, assistant professor in the departments of bioengineering and electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Research interests include statistical bioinformatics and "Web 2.0" genomics infrastructure development.
  • March 2010: Adam Arkin, a professor in the department of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Virtual Institute of Microbial Stress and Survival at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Research interests include dynamical genomics and systems biology.
  • April 2010: Frances H. Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Research interests include evolution-based protein engineering and bioenergy.

“I applaud the [Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology] students for taking the initiative to organize GenBioOrg and to bring to campus premier scientists working in areas relevant to genomics, bioinformatics, and computational biology. Their efforts increase the visibility of the [Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology] program and greatly enhance the impact of our seminar series,” said David Bevan, associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry and chair of the Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Program Steering Committee.

Founded by three Virginia Tech Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Ph.D. program students in 2006, GenBioOrg was established to help provide academic, educational, and social cohesiveness for the program’s students. With a current roster of 44 members, the group works to promote the program and field of study to the Virginia Tech community, which includes inviting external speakers to give campus-wide seminars at the university. The invited speaker series is jointly funded by the Transdisciplinary Team Science Fellowship Program for the Life Sciences, Virginia Tech’s Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity Program, and the Virginia Tech Graduate School.

With a visitor’s pass, parking is available in the lot near the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute lower entrance, as well as Wallace, Hillcrest, and Litton Reaves Lots, which can only be accessed from Duck Pond Road due to construction. A visitor’s pass may be obtained Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Visitor’s Information Center, located on Southgate Drive. Find more parking information online or call (540) 231-3200.