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UW Computational Biology Grant Will Advance Alternative Energy Research

A three-year, $3.7 million grant from the Department of Energy will fund a major computational biology center with the goal of advancing knowledge of how proteins fold and interact, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers announced this week.

The new BACTER project will train graduate students from a variety of disciplines to use computers to analyze the genome sequence, structure and molecular function of proteins in two species of photosynthetic bacteria, which use energy from sunlight to power cellular reactions. In addition to improving current methods of analysis, the project will generate important new data about the bacterium, which may be useful in developing alternative, cleaner energy sources.

“Our goal is to teach the fundamentals of computation biology in a research-driven way,” explains BACTER director Julie Mitchell, an assistant professor in the departments of biochemistry and mathematics. “We”re training students and improving current methods of analysis while generating scientifically useful data.” Mitchell came to the UW as part of the university’s cluster hire program to work in the general area of molecular biometry.

The cross-disciplinary project will involve professors and graduate students from several departments, including biochemistry, bacteriology, computer sciences, chemistry and math. Mitchell says that the UW-Madison’s unique research environment allowed her to assemble such a complex project with ease.