Biological Interactions and Dynamics
Understanding and optimizing the response of organisms and biological communities to their environment can have a significant impact on achieving viable solutions to energy, climate, and other environmental challenges facing DOE and the nation. To provide a basis for optimization and predictive redesign of microbes, fungi and plants, fundamental research is needed to identify and understand the function of cellular components and the dynamics of cellular processes, as well as the principles and mechanisms by which individual organisms and biological systems interact with their environment.
Molecular-level analyses and measurements of intracellular metabolic processes, intercellular or inter-organismal interactions within a defined community, and interactions among the biological, chemical and physical components of a specific environment or setting provide the foundational insights needed to build predictive computational models that improve our ability to modify and use plants, fungi and microbes effectively for DOE-relevant missions in such areas as sustainable biofuel production, improved carbon storage, and contaminant attenuation and remediation, as well as expand basic scientific understanding of systems biology.
Recent advances in genome-wide sequencing of a variety of organisms, coupled with significant improvements in high-throughput analytical instrumentation, the ability to image and capture the dynamics of cellular processes, and unprecedented simulations of molecular-level physical, chemical and biological processes, have contributed to a rapid transition of the biological research paradigm toward understanding biological processes within an organism, among organisms, and between organisms and their surrounding environment at a systems level. As a result, biological research is evolving from a descriptive to a quantitative, ultimately predictive science where the ability to collect and productively use large amounts of biological data are crucial.
Understanding and simulating the dynamics of living systems within the context of their environment will enable the design of plant, fungal and microbial biosystems for production of biofuels and renewable chemicals. However, there is considerable heterogeneity in cell responses because of intrinsic variation in their composition as well as their microenvironment. Characterizing the nature and sources of cellular heterogeneity is essential for building models that can predict how changes at the genetic level can alter population behavior. Understanding how different types of cells interact is also crucial for building models of complex communities. Modeling of biological systems will require new technologies and approaches to measure the composition of cellular communities and to track the temporal and spatial disposition of their components.
To facilitate the development of the biological sciences as an increasingly quantitative science, we encourage user research that focuses on the following key topical areas:
- The dynamics of intracellular processes; the localization and assembly of multiprotein complexes; and characterizing and modeling the structure-function relationships of biological polymers and proteins.
- Molecular mechanisms that define and control the interactions within cell populations.
- Understanding mechanisms of phenotypic heterogeneity in cell populations and the relative roles of genetic versus environmental factors.
- Characterizing and linking inter- and intra-cellular regulatory networks from the cell to the population level, especially those that control the response of cells to their environment.
Work in these topical areas can utilize current EMSL capabilities and ideally extend these capabilities into new technical areas. In addition, EMSL's annual Call for Proposals solicits ideas to address an announced set of focused topics within each of these key areas.
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