November 2010

Bracing for the Revolution: The Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University

Evolution is a vital component of the IGSP as well; even though the institute has grown to a sizable and sustainable level, Willard notes it’s not a time to rest on one’s laurels. “The genome sciences continue to advance at a rapid pace, and we have to move as well because if we’re not climbing that mountain, we’re rolling down the hill.”

Keeping the momentum involves placing future bets and thinking ahead. That includes a strong emphasis on education, and, as such, the IGSP offers a number of options at the student level, from introductory courses for incoming freshmen to undergraduate summer fellowships featuring mentored research and engaging activities, to a certificate-level program, equivalent to a minor degree in genome sciences and policy (a comparable graduate level certificate currently is in the works, to broaden and connect the two doctoral programs the institute already offers).

M. Arthur Moseley
Proteomics Core Director M. Arthur Moseley and his team hard at work helping the IGSP mission.

On the research end, one of the most recent initiatives has been setting up a top-level proteomics facility, a commitment that reflects Willard’s broad view that the genome sciences are much more than “just” DNA.

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology member M. Arthur Moseley, brought into the IGSP in 2007 to head the new proteomics facility, compares this view with shining light through a diamond. “Depending on which facet of the diamond you look through, you’ll see a different image,” he says. “You need to see all of them to get a complete picture.”

“Likewise, genes are only what might happen; messenger RNA is what is trying to happen; and proteins are what does happen. Only by looking at all the ‘-omic’ technologies can we understand mother nature’s subtleties.”

In just three years, Moseley has built his core from the ground up— “literally,” he says, "when I arrived, I didn’t have a floor or walls or anything”— to feature six state-of-the-art tandem mass spectrometers and a dedicated team that now has supported more than 80 investigators (in the IGSP and Duke University at-large) and 180 projects.

The proteomics core is just one of several technology platforms established within the IGSP to expedite the genome-related research efforts of the institute. Under the astute operational eye of technology manager and fellow ASBMB member Thomas Burke, whom Moseley describes as the glue that holds the diverse IGSP platform technologies together, the institute offers services for DNA microarrays, genome sequencing, RNA interference screening and an extensive fluid and tissue biospecimen facility.

“The IGSP is the ideal environment for platform technologies at Duke,” Moseley says. “Hunt created the infrastructure required to successfully deploy them to studies in basic and translational sciences, including a major investment in specialized IT infrastructure that enables user-friendly access to all the technologies.”

And, although the various technology cores primarily are service facilities, they contribute much more than just running samples. “We provide opportunities for all the core directors to apply their interests to various research projects,” Burke says. “We encourage them to meet with faculty, sit in on lab meetings and help implement methods or strategies to problems. We want our technology members to feel involved in the institute’s mission.”

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