Bioinformatics, genomics systems engineering center established at Texas A&M

COLLEGE STATION — The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents on Aug. 8 approved establishment of the Center for Bioinformatics and Genomics Systems Engineering, a joint center of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said, “This is a tremendous example of our system’s commitment to new discovery and serving the people of Texas as well as the nation.”

The center in College Station will conduct research in bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics and systems engineering as they relate to human and animal health, medicine and agriculture, serving communities across the state of Texas and beyond.

“The Center for Bioinformatics and Genomics Systems Engineering brings together two significant strengths within the engineering and agriculture programs to use bioinformatics and genomics to directly improve the health of animals and humans,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, Engineering Experiment Station director and vice chancellor and dean of engineering at Texas A&M. “With the combined strengths in AgriLife and TEES, this center is poised to become the global leader in the application of bioinformatics, computational biology and systems engineering.”

“Joining teams of agriculture and engineering researchers together can only hasten the discoveries that will yield results to improve the lives of people worldwide,” said Dr. Craig Nessler, Texas A&M AgriLife Research director.

The center will feature 7,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, a greenhouse and offices for faculty and graduate students.

Dr. Edward R. Dougherty, holder of the Robert M. Kennedy ‘26 Chair in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M, will direct the center. Dougherty is currently the director of the Genomic Signal Processing Laboratory.

“Our aim is to expand our existing strength in the mathematical formulation of molecular-level medicine and to translate that theoretical capability into diagnostic and therapeutic applications for human and animal health,” Dougherty said.

Dr. Charlie Johnson, director of Genomics and Bioinformatics at AgriLife Research, will serve as the center’s associate director. Johnson, who has more than 20 years of scientific research and leadership in the biotech industry, launched the AgriLife Research genomics and bioinformatics service core in 2010.

“One of the greatest challenges facing mankind is feeding its ever-growing population,” Johnson said. “This center will play a critical role in developing the basic underpinnings and analytical tools to empower the development of improved food and fiber around the globe.”

The overall mission of the center is to utilize the strengths in contemporary engineering systems theory and life sciences to perform fundamental and translational research that impacts human and animal health and agriculture and life sciences.

A major component of the center will be training doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers. Within a two-year period the center is expected to have between 25 and 30 doctoral students.

 Additionally, officials said the center will:

— Establish a rigorous scientific/mathematical basis of biology to improve understanding of biological systems and apply this knowledge to patient diagnostics and treatment, and to animal and plant sciences.

— Formalize long-term relations within the agricultural and animal science communities in the A&M System, as well as further develop interactions with medical institutions and industry within and outside of Texas.

— Secure significant funding for agricultural and life science research, in particular as it relates to industry within the state of Texas.

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