University of Dundee

CLS celebrates formation of new inter-disciplinary Division of Computational Biology

24 Oct 2013

This Friday, 25th October 2013, the College of Life Sciences will celebrate the formation of its newest research division. The Division of Computational Biology brings together scientists with skills in developing and applying computational, mathematical and biophysical techniques to questions in biological and medical research.  

The completion in June 2000 of the first draft of the 3 billion bases of DNA in the Human Genome was the most public demonstration that molecular biology had become a data intensive science.  Today we know over 10,000 human genomes and experimental techniques in life sciences produce increasingly prodigious amounts of data.  It is evident that these findings can only be organised, understood and exploited to further scientific understanding and to cure disease by advanced computational methods.

The founding Head of Division, Professor Geoff Barton is Professor of Bioinformatics - the research field that develops computational ways of understanding biological systems, which has become central to life sciences research through use of statistics and computer science, software engineering and database development, and applications in specific biological systems.

Professor Barton said, “Our work draws on and contributes to computer science, software engineering and statistics on one side and modern biological research on the other. Researchers within the Division share a common vision of removing artificial barriers between the physical, computational and biological sciences to maximise scientific discovery.”

The central importance of advanced computing techniques in understanding biological molecules (e.g. DNA and Proteins) and their functions was highlighted this year by the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three pioneers of computational methods for molecular modelling. Two of the founding Principal Investigators Andrei Pisliakov and Ulrich Zachariae in the Division of Computational Biology use these techniques daily in their research.

Computational Biology is the focal point for the convergence of computing, mathematics and the physical sciences with experimental biology. The new Division currently has five Principal Investigators including Professor Geoff Barton (Professor of Bioinformatics), Professor Tim Newman (Professor of Biophysics & SULSA Research Professor of Systems Biology), Professor Jason Swedlow (Professor of Quantitative Cell Biology), Dr. Andrei Pisliakov (Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Physics) and Dr. Ulrich Zachariae (Reader in Computational Biophysics and Drug Discovery).

Professor Mike Ferguson, Dean of Research at the College of Life Sciences said, “The formation of this division plays a significant part in realising our vision of basic research driven by cross-disciplinary collaboration, with innovation and translation as the guiding principles. This is the first joint-division between Life Science and the College of Art, Science and Engineering and I congratulate Geoff and his colleagues on creating an exciting new collaboration between these disciplines.”

Members of the Division either have their own “wet-lab” or collaborate closely with “wet-lab” experimentalists or clinicians to extract maximum value from experimental data that informs the development of predictive algorithms and models that may in turn guide “wet-lab” experiments.  

Professor Barton said: “In February 2014, the Division will move to its permanent home, a purpose-built floor in the new Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research (CTIR), a space designed to spark interactions between bioinformaticians, mathematicians, physicists and software developers and further enhance associations between scientists.  We are actively seeking to expand the Division by recruitment of 5-7 new research groups over the next five years.”

“Both literally and figuratively the formation of the Division of Computational Biology and the opening of the CTIR building will ‘bring together’ researchers from all the disciplines, working together to increase our understanding of life sciences in the post-genome era.”

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