The Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech addresses critical challenges related to the integrative life sciences, especially those posed to human health, habitat and wellbeing. Our research programs emphasize information biology, a unifying informatics-driven approach for studying biological systems from molecules and simple organisms to the microbiome and policy considerations in massive human-created networks.
The doors of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech are framed by the genetic code of the M13 cloning vector, one of the first cloning vectors developed in 1974. M13 became a gateway to a new world of possibilities for understanding genes and genomes.
Similarly, the institute has opened a door for Virginia into bioinformatics and information biology.
The institute was founded by forward-thinking members of the Commonwealth who realized that biotechnology was the next step for growth in the region. Virginia Tech rose to the challenge and with the help of $12.3 million from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Committee, the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech opened its doors in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research center with only five employees in 2000.
Since then, we’ve grown to employ over 250 experts in information biology with a research portfolio totaling $118 million in grants and contracts. In 2003, the majority of the institute’s operations moved onto the main Virginia Tech campus, though some laboratories like the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory remained in the Corporate Research Center.
With an emphasis on team science, we’ve continued to work with bioinformatics and genomics, but we understand that genomes must be understood in context. The institute has therefore embraced network dynamics and simulation science to connect biology and the large, interacting systems that govern it.
The Next Evolution
As with any research organization, we live in a world where only the strongest survive. The next step in our evolution as an institute is at hand, and the keys to that that evolution are social data analytics and biocomplexity.
Social data analytics unites statisticians, behavioral scientists, and many other disciplines to give in-depth and accurate interpretations of the massive amounts of data being generated in today’s world. From developing better manufacturing systems to integrating all facets of emergency management, social data analytics makes sense of the complex tangle of data available today.
Biocomplexity is the study of increasingly complex systems comprised of many agents or parts. For example, if we can understand how and why RNA folds into specific structures, we can then create structures of our own to perform a multitude of tasks from stopping viruses before they start in cells to creating new fuels and food sources. Biocomplexity unifies many heretofore disparate disciplines—biology, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and chemistry, to name just a few.
With such a diverse and rich research platform, the institute is poised to answer some of today’s most pressing challenges in the region and across the globe.