Two scientists in the Biosciences Area, Greg Hura and Vivek Mutalik, are heading up research projects that are part of the Department of Energy’s Biopreparedness Research Virtual Environment (BRaVE) initiative. This effort supports national biopreparedness and response capabilities that can be advanced with DOE’s distinctive capabilities. Yasuo Yoshikuni, a scientist at the Joint Genome Institute with a secondary appointment in the Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology (EGSB) Division, is part of a third project to unlock the molecular basis of plant-pathogen Interactions to create resilient bioenergy crops which is being led by Brookhaven National Laboratory. These three projects are among 10 BRaVE projects announced by DOE Sept. 7.
BRaVE builds on the success of DOE’s National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) that contributed to the fight against COVID-19. During the pandemic, a team of structural biologists at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) was asked to support “Task 5” of NVBL, which was developing antibody-based diagnostics. The Taskforce 5 project grew out of those efforts and will be led by Greg Hura, staff scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division. He and his team will continue to advance capabilities at the SIBYLS Beamline at the ALS and two other DOE Office of Science user facilities. The researchers will train and optimize three plug-and-play biopreparedness pipelines using six model viruses, while allowing the pipelines to enhance the synergistic capabilities of their bioimaging approaches and automate data integration and analysis. “Our goal is to prepare unique-to-DOE resources in structural biology and computation so that they optimally contribute to the next biothreat response in coordination with other government agencies, academia, and industry,” said Hura.
Taskforce 5 will receive $4M/year for three years. Partner institutions include Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories; MD Anderson Cancer Center; the University of Arkansas; Auburn University; and the University of Nevada, Reno.
A different threat to national health is the rise of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections, which will require novel antibiotics. Bacteriophages (phages) – viruses that target bacteria – offer a powerful alternative approach to combat AMR bacterial infections. The Phage Foundry, led by Vivek Mutalik, a staff scientist in the EGSB Division, would serve as an open platform integrating many aspects of phage research to enable rapid development of targeted phage-based therapeutics against AMR pathogens. It would also help to power the bio-based economy by developing other phage-based biotechnologies, including diagnostics and vaccination strategies to treat emerging viral threats in the future. “The ability to rationally design therapeutic phage formulations to overcome AMR pathogens quickly and with seamless adaptability to new pathogens can revolutionize our approach to combat rising instances of AMR,” Mutalik said.
The Phage Foundry will receive $3.6M/year for three years. Collaborating institutions are the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Chicago; San Francisco State University; and Sandia National Laboratories.