Genomic Science Program
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Biological and Environmental Research Program

Energy Department Awards $103 Million for Post-Genomic Research


Secretary Abraham announces the “Genomes to Life” research awards. Seated at left is Dr. Raymond Orbach, Director, Office of Science; at right, award recipient Dr. Grant Heffelfinger, Sandia National Laboratories.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Jill Schroeder, 202/586-4940
Jacqueline Johnson, 202/586-5806

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham today announced five major research awards for post-genomic research. The awards total $103 million over the next five years. Research will be conducted at six national laboratories, 16 universities and research hospitals and four private research institutes.

The awards are part of the department’s new “Genomes to Life” program that plans to take advantage of solutions that nature has already devised to help solve problems in energy production, environmental cleanup and carbon cycling. Through a systems approach to biology at the interface of the biological, physical and computational sciences, the program seeks to understand entire living organisms and their interactions with the environment.

The awards were made before DOE employees in the Forrestal Auditorium this afternoon.

“This innovative research program offers biotechnology solutions that can help us produce clean energy, clean up the environment and make a significant contribution to the President’s policy on climate change,” Secretary Abraham said. “One could hardly imagine when the Energy Department began the human genome project in the ’80s that the resulting information and technologies could yield such diverse benefits.” Secretary Abraham made the remarks at an event at Department of Energy headquarters where he presented the lead researchers with ceremonial checks to begin their work.

As part of this initiative, the department’s Office of Science requested proposals for large, multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary projects involving both the biological and computational sciences. Scientists have long tried to understand the workings of individual genes or small groups of genes. The new projects will focus on entire networks of genes and even entire biological systems – single-celled organisms at first and later more complex creatures including humans.

This new research is possible because of the information and technology now available to scientists on the human genome and the rapidly growing list of other organisms—from microbes to plants to worms to mice —that provide new perspectives on the inner workings of biological systems.

The project’s 10-year goal is to make advances in systems biology, computation and technology that will: contribute to increased sources of biological-based energy; help understand the earth’s carbon cycle and design ways to enhance carbon capture; and lead to cost-effective ways to clean up the environment.

Nature has created an array of molecular machines with precise and efficient functions and controls, including motion, molecular detection, chemical synthesis and degradation, and light emission and detection. A goal of the Genomes to Life program is to understand these molecular machines and their controls so well that they can be used and even redesigned to address national needs. The program is also expected to lead to an understanding of the complex regulatory networks that control the assembly and coordinate the operation of these machines.

The program will also provide an understanding of the complex workings of microbial communities. Many of the microbes that may be used to help solve energy and environmental challenges normally do their work as part of communities made up of many different microbes. Eight microbes will be studied in these research projects because of their potential for: bioremediation of metals and radionuclides, degradation of organic pollutants, production of hydrogen or sequestration of carbon or because of their importance in ocean carbon cycling. All of these individual microbes have had their genetic sequence determined under the department’s Microbial Genome program.

None of this is achievable without sophisticated new computational tools. Thus, to help these achieve insights, researchers will develop computational tools to predict the functions and behaviors of complex biological systems.


Award to Oak Ridge National Laboratory $23.4 million over 3 years
Genomes to Life Center for Molecular and Cellular Systems: A Research Program for Identification and Characterization of Protein Complexes

Research Partners: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Argonne National Laboratory; Sandia National Laboratory; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Utah.

This team, led by Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, will develop and use the technologies needed to identify and characterize the complete set of multiprotein complexes, the molecular machines of life, within a microbial cell. The research will focus on two microbes —one that plays a significant role in earth’s carbon cycle and another with an ability to clean up metals in contaminated soil.

Award to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory $36.6 million over 5 years
Rapid Deduction of Stress Response Pathways in Metal/Radionuclide Reducing Bacteria

Research Partners: Sandia National Laboratory; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; University of California at Berkeley; University of Missouri, Columbia; University of Washington, Seattle; Diversa Corporation, San Diego, Calif.

This team will develop computational models to describe and predict the behavior of gene regulatory networks in microbes in response to the environmental conditions found in waste sites contaminated with metals and radionuclides.

Award to Sandia National Laboratory $19.1 million over 3 years
Carbon Sequestration in Synechococcus: From Molecular Machines to Hierarchical Modeling

Research Partners: Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Los Alamos National Laboratory; National Center for Genome Resources, Santa Fe, NM; University of California at San Diego; University of Tennessee at Knoxville; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; The Molecular Science Institute, Berkeley, CA; University of California at Santa Barbara; University of Illinois, Champaign.

This team will develop and apply experimental and computational methods to understand proteins, protein-protein interactions and the gene regulatory networks that control the production of these proteins in a marine microbe that plays a significant role in earth’s carbon cycle.

Cooperative Agreement with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst $8.9 million over 3 years
Analysis of the Genetic Potential and Gene Expression of Microbial Communities Involved in the in situ Bioremediation of Uranium and Harvesting Electrical Energy from Organic Matter

Research Partners: The Institute for Genomic Research, Rockville, MD; Argonne National Laboratory; University of Tennessee, Memphis.

This team will study a family of microbes with the potential for uranium bioremediation and, remarkably, for production of electricity through their ability to transfer electrons to electrodes. The research’s goal is to develop computational models that can predict the activity of communities of these microbes in their natural environment. This knowledge in turn can predict the success of bioremediation and energy production under different environmental conditions.

Cooperative Agreement with Harvard Medical School $15 million over 5 years
Microbial Ecology, Proteogenomics and Computational Optima

Research Partners: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA
This team will study two different microbes—one that plays a significant role in earth’s carbon cycle, and another with broad metabolic diversity. The team will study the proteins and protein-protein interactions in these microbes, the gene regulatory networks that control the production of these proteins and the behavior of these microbes as complex environmental communities. They will develop computational methods to understand the biology of these microbes at a systems level.