BLACKSBURG, Feb. 25, 2001 - In its ambitious entry into the union of computers and genetics, Virginia Tech stands poised to enhance its own excellence and brighten the region's economic prospects.
Virginia Tech is making an aggressive but well-timed bet on a new technology in its strategy to join the top tier of the nation's research universities.
Tech's vision for the astounding scientific and economic possibilities of bioinformatics, which unites biologists and computer scientists in deciphering genetic data , offers significant potential for Southside and Southwest Virginia as well as the university.
Villages won't become overnight pharmaceutical centers, but the high-speed computer capacity demanded by the technology could speed extension of the Internet backbone essential to rural Virginia's economic future.
Despite a fast break into bioinformatics in the last year, the university must still play catch-up to formidable competitors nationwide. Even in Virginia, other localities are busy announcing bioinformatics incubators, corporate parks and even a multimillion-dollar research center.
When added to the expected research power of Tech's new Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, this multiplication of biotech ventures could help Tech by making Virginia an industry hot spot. Visibility helps attract research dollars, corporate investment and venture capital.
In choosing bioinformatics, Tech is wisely leveraging its strengths in information technology to tap into the huge pool of medical research funding. The university's strategic alliance with Roanoke's Carilion Biomedical Institute also enhances its medical credentials.
One research giant could become a powerful ally for Tech rather than a potential competitor because of its surprise move into the state. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will build a $500 million bioinformatics research institute in Loudoun County, enhancing chances for collaboration with Tech.
In propelling its $39 million institute toward success, the university has made smart moves. It gained immediate credibility - and access to federal grantmakers - by hiring two respected scientists to head its institute: Bruno Sobral, a top scientist with the National Center for Genome Resources, and Clark Tibbetts from George Mason University's Biotechnology Institute. A crucial component for the Bioinformatics Institute's success, however, depends on state assurances of stable funding for the expensive enterprise. The institute's only state funding now is a two-year allotment of tobacco-settlement funds.
Virginia must also resist the political temptation to replicate this research center elsewhere, diluting essential investment.
With state support and an ambitious strategy, Tech's new institute offers great promise of securing for itself and this region the prestige and the economic stability of joining the world's next economic revolution.
February 24, 2001