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Thermo Fisher Scientific gift will allow researchers to explore how genetic expression co-evolves with environment

March 27, 2016

Thermo Fisher Scientific's Ion Torrent S5

Photo of Thermo Fisher Scientific's Ion Torrent S5
Thermo Fisher Scientific's Ion Torrent S5

Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading provider of scientific products and technology, is providing the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech with equipment and funds to advance DNA sequencing research.

The Biocomplexity Institute, which has a cross-disciplinary focus, conducts research that explains, predicts, and visualizes the behavior of complex systems, ranging from the human genome to urban infrastructure.

In support of this mission, Thermo Fisher has made an in-kind contribution of $162,340 in new equipment and committed $200,000 in support of research using the equipment.

DNA sequencing technology and analytics have rapidly revolutionized the life sciences, allowing scientists to understand how genetic expression co-evolves with the broader environment.

As that trend continues, the Biocomplexity Institute is expanding the scope of inquiry further by investigating massively interacting biological systems at scale.

Research faculty and students at the Biocomplexity Institute are eager to employ Thermo Fisher’s major contributions to this ever-broadening scientific program, said Chris Barrett, the institute’s executive director.

“What used to be a rather specialized, inaccessible technology has been blown wide open now,” Barrett said. “People are applying these technologies to answer large-scale biological questions we couldn’t have even imagined approaching just a few years ago. From Virginia Tech’s point of view, it’s important we have multiple leading technologies at our disposal and continue to maintain a collaborative relationship with the companies that create them. Advances in mathematics and computation are constantly changing the conceptual landscape. Thermo Fisher’s new DNA sequencing platform gives us another tool to stay ahead of the curve.”

Barrett, a professor in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering, added that the equipment donated by Thermo Fisher has the potential to open up new possibilities in precision medicine research, an emerging field that uses a detailed understanding of an individual’s genetic history to deliver treatments tailored to their unique biological makeup.

Barrett said his staff and students will be able to play an important role in trying out the new equipment and providing feedback to Thermo Fisher.

“We really appreciate the opportunity to use this cutting-edge equipment,” Barrett said. “It’s a novel technology in a rapidly evolving scientific environment.”

The new instrument, introduced to the market in September, is used in all areas of genomic research, including inherited disorders, infectious agents, microbial identification, and translational cancer research.

In addition to the instrument, Thermo Fisher, headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, is funding a fellowship in support of research on DNA sequencing with a focus on high-yield agricultural crops, livestock of global importance, and microbes with significant agribusiness implications.

 “We’re pleased that our instrument donation will benefit faculty, fellows, and students in the field of genetic analysis at Virginia Tech’s Biocomplexity Institute,” said Greg Herrema, president of customer channels for Thermo Fisher and a Virginia Tech alumnus. “We will also fund a dedicated faculty researcher and provide access to technical resources within Thermo Fisher to support the collaboration and the benefits it will deliver.”

Written by Annie McCallum.

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