Stacking the Systems Bio Building Blocks
From Polk Hall on NC State’s main campus to a biotechnology research campus being sculpted in the clay of Cabarrus County, University administrators are building toward the future with an eye on the growth of systems biology research.
The Structural and Integrative Biosciences Laboratory (SIBL), expected to open in October 2007, is part of a $15 million overhaul of Polk Hall. The lab will be equipped so students can attack complex problems, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, using a variety of sciences, from chemistry to molecular biology to genetics. “In the past, we’ve taken a very reductionist approach to teaching science, with everyone focused on his or her own discipline. But science doesn’t work like that in the real world,” says Dr. John Cavanagh, a biochemistry professor and SIBL director. Faculty from different science departments will work with students in SIBL, but the students will spend most of their time as teams in the lab. “We’re teaching process, not fundamentals,” Cavanagh says. “They don’t need to be experts in everything, but they need to understand the connections between chemistry and biology and biology and physics and be able to work across disciplines to see how components interact.”
That interdisciplinary philosophy is also in play on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. The $1 billion project will combine the research talents of NC State and six other North Carolina universities to improve the nutritional value of produce from the field to the table. “Rather than working with a few plant breeders, we’re taking a systems approach,” says Dr. Steven Leath, associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We’ll have plant biologists working with genetics folks and biochemists working with people in food science.” Researchers from other universities will work with NC State’s Institute of Advanced Fruit and Vegetable Science, providing input on human health, nutrition enhancements, and food processing and packaging.
“We will have the critical mass needed to tackle a systems biology approach because we’ll have the strengths of several universities and the best equipment in the world in one location.”
The 350-acre campus, the brainchild of Dole Food Company, Inc., owner David Murdock, will feature state-of-the-art technology, such as a 950-megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance imager—the world’s largest—for studying complex proteins. Thirteen NC State faculty members will be based in Kannapolis, while short-term housing on site will allow other researchers to commute from Raleigh to take advantage of the scientific equipment and participate in projects. “We will have the critical mass needed to tackle a systems biology approach,” Leath says, “because we’ll have the strengths of several universities and the best equipment in the world in one location.”