Genomics -- think of it as the next level of molecular biology. New technologies have made possible the study of genes in the context of the genome, the total genetic makeup of an organism, thus the term genomics.
It is arguably the most exciting and dynamic area of scientific inquiry today.
Not only is the pace at which new discoveries are being made amazing, the potential for the betterment of the human race from advances in genomic science is truly staggering.
We'll take a look in this issue of Perspectives at some of the genomic initiatives in progress in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. We'll tell you about our new Genome Research Laboratory that's under construction on the Centennial Campus. This lab will make available to our faculty technology that is so powerful that scientists who do not have access to it may not be able to compete with those who do.
Dr. Charles Opperman and Dr. William Thompson are to be commended for their efforts to establish the lab. I also note the contributions of Dr. Johnny Wynne, associate dean and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, and Dr. Steven Lommel, assistant director of the research service, in moving decisively to fund and establish the lab.
The technology that will be available in our new Genome Research Laboratory generates amazing amounts of data, which is where Dr. Bruce Weir comes into the picture, along with what is perhaps an unfamiliar term, bioinformatics.
Bioinformatics, as Dr. Weir explains, "combines biology with statistics and computer science to analyze and manage the massive amounts of data involved in genomic science." Dr. Weir, a William Neal Reynolds Professor of Statistics and Genomics, is working to establish a center in bioinformatics at the university.
I noted earlier the potential for genomic research to better our lives. As proof of that assertion, consider the work of Dr. Rebecca Boston, Dr. Ray Long and Dr. Art Weissinger. You'll read in this issue how these scientists are collaborating with Dr. A. Bennett Jenson, a clinical pathologist at the Georgetown University Medical School, to manipulate the genetics of tobacco plants so that the plants contain a protein that may be used as a vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer. If this work is successful, it will save the lives of thousands of women, particularly in developing parts of the world, every year. And in the bargain, this project may provide our state's tobacco growers with an alternative use and market for their crops.
These are just a few of the genomic initiatives we're pursing. We'll bring you information about ongoing efforts in coming issues. In the meantime, enjoy this issue, with its focus on genomics and other news from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
-- JAMES L. OBLINGER