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Sorin Istrail, the Julie Nguyen Brown Professor of Computational and Mathematical Sciences and Professor of Computer Science and director of the Center for Computational Molecular Biology, has received a $65,000 targeted research seed fund award for scientific computing. This award was bestowed by the Office of the Vice President for Research and funded by the Office of the Provost.

Istrail will use the seed money to begin a groundbreaking project: Computationally reconstruct a single protein molecule folding in vivo. Istrail says meeting this goal would go a long way toward advancing the science of genomics and improving human health.

“Proteins are the work horses of the cell,” he said. “How they form and shift shape is one of the major secrets of biology – and also a major key to understanding how proteins help with metabolism, immune response, cell signaling. And many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and certain kinds of cancer, can be traced to protein misfolding. We want to try and understand how this process happens. To do that, you have to be bold.”

Istrail will collaborate with scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology to develop new computational environments for molecular reconstruction. This project will involve the world's most powerful accelerator-based neutron source to gather the data needed to bring form and movement to proteins. The project will also involve the creation of new algorithms and mathematical models to pull this raw data together to create and animate the protein folding models in 3D.

Dubbed “The Cellarium Project,” it will also involve creating a cutting-edge classroom with large-scale displays that would allow students and faculty to see these animations, view genome maps and even travel inside cells to see organelles and proteins at work.