The groundbreaking for the Integrative Genomics Building (IGB), the future home of the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase), took place under sunny skies yesterday, January 31, at the former site of the Bevatron particle accelerator. Notables in attendance included Sharlene Weatherwax, associate director of science for Biological and Environmental Research (BER) at DOE Office of Science; Pier Oddone, former Fermilab director and former Berkeley Lab deputy director; and Kimberley Budil, vice president for national laboratories in the University of California Office of the President. To symbolize their future partnership and signify some of the vast and complex communities of microorganisms that provide the foundation for the research that will be conducted in the IGB, JGI Director-Designate Nigel Mouncey and KBase Principal Investigator Adam Arkin mixed soil samples in beaker mugs and toasted to their shared vision for the Biosciences future colocation on the Hill.
Opening the ceremony at the former Bevatron site, Berkeley Lab Director Mike Witherell gave some historical perspective, noting that the IGB was “rising from a foundation of research at the intersection of physics, biology, and computation.” Citing the Lab’s tradition of interdisciplinary team science, he added “This history – from physics to biosciences – also reminds us of the critical part that biosciences research programs have to play at Berkeley Lab now and in the future.”
Sharlene Weatherwax expressed her enthusiasm for the IGB within the context of the science it will enable for BER, which funds both JGI and KBase, and supports a diverse portfolio of fundamental research and technology development. She spoke about how the generation of genome data from JGI will feed the work of KBase, which provides a platform that allows scientists to develop and test model plant and microbial physiology and community dynamics. “We always recognized that enabling scientists to evaluate and synthesize this data was going to be critical for the future,” Weatherwax continued. “In that sense KBase embodies the spirit of teaming and sharing that are at the heart of how BER does business.”
After the ceremony concluded, a program hosted by Jay Keasling, associate laboratory director for Biosciences, featured remarks by Jesse Arreguin, the mayor of Berkeley; video addresses by US Congresswomen for California, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Barbara Lee; and a historical perspective on the contentious emergence of the JGI by Oddone. Jennifer Pett-Ridge, senior staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, highlighted some of her soil microbiome research that has been and will be enabled by JGI and KBase.
Keasling concluded the program by sharing his vision and aspirations for the Biosciences Area. “As I look to the future and what Biosciences can bring to it, I understand that the achievement of our vision depends not only on excellent science but also on a diverse and passionate workforce supported by informed scientific and public communities,” Keasling said. “I am confident that coming together here at the main site at Berkeley Lab, the birthplace of team science, we will achieve many of our ambitious goals and, as a result, improve the US economy and make the world a much better place.”