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Systems biologist receives $2.5 million Pioneer Award for genome research

Systems biologist Edward Marcotte has received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue cutting-edge research in the area of genome sequencing technology.

The five-year grant is one of 10 NIH Director's Pioneer Awards given this year. The Pioneer Award, established in 2004, challenges investigators at all career levels to develop innovative approaches that have the potential to produce a high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research.

Marcotte's project focuses on what he sees as the next step in "next-generation" genome sequencing technology, which can currently sequence more than a billion short DNA molecules per analysis.

"This technology has recently transformed biology," said Marcotte, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "Unfortunately, no method of similar scale and throughput yet exists to identify and quantify specific proteins in complex mixtures, representing a critical bottleneck in many biochemical, molecular diagnostic and biomarker discovery assays."

Marcotte aims to change that by developing highly parallel strategies for identifying and quantifying individual peptides or proteins in a sample. If successful, the resulting technology would be directly applicable to cancer diagnosis, characterization and protein cancer biomarker discovery.

"It will have broad applications across biology and medicine," said Marcotte.

Marcotte, who is co-director of the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology in the College of Natural Sciences, has been a pioneer in the development of strategies for sifting through the massive amounts of genetic data that the new sequencing technology is generating.

He uses networks such as those that might illustrate the connections among Facebook users to create maps of the hundreds of thousands of millions of potential relationships among genes and proteins within an organism.

Such an approach has paid off, most recently, in the identification of a potential anti-tumor drug for humans by noting the similarity between genes that grow cell walls in human blood vessels and genes that respond to stress in single-celled yeast.

Contact: Daniel Oppenheimer
University of Texas at Austin

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