December 19th, 2006


The Five Departments We Need the Most, Number 4: Genomics and Proteomics

  • Who needs it: Biologists, especially molecular biologists, but also ecologists and population genetics people; biochemists; pharmacologists. In Arts and Sciences, entomologists too. Agricultural researchers, especially plant pathologists and physiologists and animal scientists, but also including other agronomists, horticulturalists, etc.. Pathobiologists and clinical researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine. People in food safety and at the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center (NABC). Computer scientists from intelligent systems to computer architecture to programming language theorists, as an application area; statisticians, and mathematicians for similar reasons. Chemoinformatics and computational physics, for tips of the trade.

  • Why we need it: See the application domains above for specific reasons. As with Library Science, it's also a sign that you have arrived on the scene if you can tie together some of these areas. Also, as with BME, it's a good way to become more marketable, garner NIH and NSF funding, and just gain prestige as a "Research One" university.

  • When we need it (and how long we've needed it): We've been ready for no more than five years, if that. I was part of the first wave of bioinformatics people who organized circa 2001 and really started making the big postdoc hires only in 2003 and the big faculty hires only in 2006. Doina Caragea is our first fully-fledged bioinformatician in CS, though people such as Sue Brown in Biology, Clare Nelson in Plant Path, Steve Welch in Agronomy, Sanjoy Das in EECE, and myself work on various bioinformatics projects.

  • How bad we need it: Once again, it's a question of opportunity costs, but this time I can put a name to a face: NSF has had the Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR), Arabidopsis 2010, and Biological Databases and Informatics (BDI) programs; we have our Ecological Genomics and Arthropod Genomics programs from NSF and Targeted Excellence; and then there are all the NIH R01 projects.

  • Where it should live (i.e., to what college it should belong): I, personally, would like to see it in Agriculture, but perhaps the Division of Biology would be appropriate as they also have a strong program in molecular genetics. As with Library Science and Linguistics, it already exists in "spread out" form, and this is more of a need for principled, consolidated growth and program development.