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Joint Institute for Biological Sciences

The major goal of the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences (JIBS) is to promote increased interactions and provide new research and training opportunities for UT faculty, students and ORNL staff. The JIBS mission is to provide world class infrastructure, scientific instrumentation and an intellectual environment to compete with leading research institutions in shaping the Energy Bioscience research agenda to achieve fundamental science advances and problem solutions. JIBS supports highly interdisciplinary and crosscutting research themes needed to accelerate progress in complex bioenergy and bioenvironmental systems, but it also accommodates the needs of individual investigators by facilitating access to facilities and equipment crucial to competitive independent research. JIBS came into being in 2007 in a focused fundamental research environment stressing the nation’s long term needs in areas of energy security, independence, sustainability, and the energy-environment-climate nexus.

Investments in JIBS physical facilities and equipment along with the Tennessee BioEnergy initiative were central to UT’s and ORNL’s early success in leading this new DOE research agenda with ORNL, UT and partners capturing $125 million support for the ORNL led BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), home-based in JIBS. As a relatively new institute with no constitutive faculty, JIBS pursued four primary goals during its start-up phase which included (1) overseeing the completion of the JIBS research building on the West Campus of ORNL, (2) acquisition of major instrumentation for equipping the building, (3) initiation and sustaining processes for enhancing UT faculty research opportunities and laboratory interaction, and (4) identification and recruitment of Governor’s Chair candidates.

Research instrumentation in JIBS has given UT-ORNL faculty and staff and students state-of-the-art capability in genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic analysis of biological and environmental systems. High throughput nucleic acid sequencing and analysis is the hallmark of modern bioenvironmental science. In that regard, accessibility to the only Roche 454 titanium pyrosequencing system regionally available continues to be improved for UT faculty and students. This is accomplished through collaboration and the establishment of a cost recharge center in the CEB.

Two Illumina next generation sequencing instruments, providing greater, more cost-effective high throughput analysis, were recently acquired by ORNL and added to the repertoire of instruments available to UT. The Illumina High-seq instrument ($750,000) represents the ultimate in available instruments for transcriptomic (mRNA) analysis of expressed genomes or metagenomes. A new postdoctoral researcherto support high throughput nucleic acid sequencing and analysis, particularly for meta-populations, is interfaced directly with the CEB cost recharge center to facilitate UT faculty use with the JIBS facility.

JIBS plays a leading role in promoting the DOE Energy Bioscience research agenda:

  • JIBS was active in the recruitment of a new faculty hire in Synthetic Biology, Dr. Cong Trinh, in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), by ensuring facility access and collaboration through the projected postdoctoral researcher.
  • JIBS supported five invited faculty lectures by national leaders in the field of Synthetic Biology participating in a Microbiology “Framework of Synthetic Biology” graduate course, co-instructed by Dr. Trinh of CBE.
  • JIBS, in cooperation with ISSE and with NSF and DOE funding, supported the participation of 20 faculty and students from Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Journalism and UTIA and ORNL staff in the 2010 China-US Joint Research Center for Ecosystem and Environmental Change (JRCEEC) conference in Beijing. JIBS, a Charter founder of JRCEEC, also sponsored the Plant Biotechnology for Bioenergy conference in Beijing.
  • The JIBS director was a leader in preparing the “Long Term Vision’ plan for the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) as part of his role on the BER Advisory Board (BERAC). He was also engaged in leading aspects of BER’s “Complex System Science” and “Knowledge Base” research planning workshops.
  • JIBS nominated 5 ORNL staff scientists for joint faculty appointments in life science and engineering departments at UTK.
  • Two JCREEC Chinese research scholars were in residence, one at ORNL and one at UTK, during 2010-11.

The three major focuses remain in (1) supporting post-genomic and metagenomic research needs of UT and ORNL faculty and staff, (2) continuing the development of the new Synthetic Biology core, and (3) promoting the development of an international, JIBS anchored, China-US collaborative research program at the interface between BioEnergy, Sustainability, and Environmental Change through the JRCEEC. Plans also include interacting with the new Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education in curriculum development and student recruitment in the area of Energy Bioscience. The Bredesen Center will offer one of the country’s first interdisciplinary doctoral degrees in energy science and engineering and will train scientists to take on the world’s most challenging energy problems by working with teams of researchers.

JIBS is directed by Dr. Michael L. Simpson and advised by a 15 person Faculty Advisory Board comprised of UT Science and Engineering Faculty and ORNL staff scientists. The director reports to Dr. Martin Keller, Associate Laboratory Director at ORNL, and to the University of Tennessee Chancellor, through the office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Taylor Eighmy.


Michael L. Simpson
Director, UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences
Corporate Fellow and Group Leader
Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
P.O. Box 2008, MS 6493
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6493

Phone: 865-574-8588

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