BLACKSBURG, Va., April 30, 2010 - The United States Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded a prestigious scholarship to a graduate research assistant at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech.

Matthew Lux, VBI
Matthew Lux, VBI

Matthew Lux, a current student in Virginia Tech's Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (GBCB) Ph.D. program (http://www.grads.vt.edu/academics/programs/gbcb/), who holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, was selected to receive a scholarship by the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program. As a SMART Scholar, Lux will receive $33,000 per year for his remaining three years in the GBCB program, as well as paid tuition and related educational expenses. Lux was sponsored by James Valdes, Scientific Advisor for Biotechnology at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), the U.S. Army's principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering, and field operations, located in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. 

"With Matt's research contributions, this award will allow the ECBC to explore opportunities to leverage synthetic biology to strengthen the security of our nation," said Valdes. 

Lux, from Raleigh N.C., is a member of VBI Associate Professor Jean Peccoud's Synthetic Biology Group (https://www.vbi.vt.edu/research/Synthetic-Biology-Research-Group), where work is focused on streamlining the design and fabrication of artificial gene networks. Computer-assisted design of genetic systems is poised to bring significant benefits to the biomedical community and the biotechnology industry. However, the lack of calibrated genetic parts remains a major limitation. The group develops software, computational tools and high throughput imaging systems that allow researchers to take full advantage of calibrated genetic components and the potential of synthetic biology. Lux's research involves applying engineering principles to the development of synthetic DNA molecules that could be used as intelligent sensors or to deploy countermeasures to chemical and biological threats.

 "It is important for the defense community to assess the biological risk that synthetic biology represents while evaluating how this emerging technology can be used to develop generic biological defense strategies," explained Peccoud. "This fellowship recognizes that Matt's work can serve a very important role in this evolution."

Since joining the GBCB program, Lux has been supported by a fellowship from SAIC, a scientific, engineering, and technology applications company focused on work involving national security, energy and the environment, critical infrastructure, and health. Lux has been involved in the Synthetic Biology Group's ongoing collaboration with the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that provides systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government. This partnership resulted in a peer-reviewed publication*, with Lux serving as one of the two lead authors. The paper proposes that adaptation of co-design methods for synthetic biology and details the development of an environmental sensing device that can detect the presence of harmful chemicals.

"VBI is a nationally recognized center of excellence in biodefense informatics, thanks to the innovative work of our researchers and students," said VBI Executive Director Harold "Skip" Garner. "Gene synthesis technologies make it possible to translate this expertise into a new generation of physical devices."

 

* Ball DA, Lux MW, Graef RR, Peterson MW, Valenti JD, Dileo J, Peccoud J. (2010) Co-design in synthetic biology: a system-level analysis of the development of an environmental sensing device. Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing. 15:385-396.

 

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (http://www.vbi.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology, and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science combining information technology, biology, and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today's key challenges in the biomedical, environmental, and agricultural sciences. With more than 240 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, plant pathology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology, and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world's scientific, governmental, and wider communities.

 

About GBCB

Virginia Tech's GBCB Ph.D. program (http://www.grads.vt.edu/academics/programs/gbcb/) encompasses applications of molecular biology, genomics, mathematics, statistics, and computer science to all areas of the life sciences. Tailored individually to students' needs, the program spans traditional departmental boundaries and allows students enrolled in a program to work with faculty from many departments and colleges.

 

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Susan Bland
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Published by Susan Bland, April 30, 2010