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Release: Aug. 15, 2001

UI establishes center, names director for comparative genomics

The University of Iowa Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has received a $700,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine to establish a Center for Comparative Genomics beginning fall semester 2001.

Housed in the newly renovated "Old Biology Building," the center will be one of the first of its kind in the United States and will establish the university as a leader in the new and emerging discipline of comparative genomics, which involves studying the inter-relatedness of all life forms. In addition, the center's director will be William Ballard, former Pritzker Associate Curator of the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the preeminent names in the field.

"The goal of the center is to establish the relationships among the diverse life forms on the planet and the historical basis for this diversity," said Jack Lilien, chair of the department of biological sciences. "Research will focus on analysis of DNA sequences from many diverse organisms to establish the commonalities and differences between them.

"Dr. Ballard is recognized as a leader in this field. We welcome him to Iowa where he will coordinate the efforts of a variety of researchers already working in the field," Lilien said.

In appreciation of the Carver grant, Vice President for Research David J. Skorton said, "The University of Iowa is grateful to the Carver Trust for recognizing the UI's research strength and for funding future research in this dynamic area."

Current UI biology faculty who will be affiliated with the center include Associate Professor Joseph Comeron, an expert in bioinformatics, a new method of analyzing DNA to reveal the relationships between different organisms. Also, Assistant Professor Debashish Bhattacharya currently uses DNA sequences of algae to establish the origins of single-celled organisms.

Others expected to be part of the center are Associate Professor Ming-Che Shih, Professor Jonathan Poulton, and Associate Professor Chi-Lien Cheng, all of whom are studying the relationship among genes that encode functionally similar proteins. The goal of their work is to determine how a single gene becomes duplicated, ultimately coding for a family of proteins with similar but different functions. Also, Professor Stephen Hendrix and Assistant Professor Stephen Heard are studying how different animals and plants that exist in the same environments co-exist, change and diversify in response to changes in their physical and biological environments.

Lilien added that the department and the center are anxious to establish interactions with other UI researchers interested in comparative genomics.

The Carver Trust grant for the Center for Comparative Genomics was made through the UI Foundation, the preferred channel for private contributions to all areas of the university. Foundation staff work with alumni and friends to generate funds for scholarships, professorships, facilities improvements, equipment purchases, research and other UI initiatives.