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University of Minnesota to hire 16 new faculty to form collaborative clusters that will address global health and environmental challenges

August 30, 2012

As the global population moves toward 9 billion, the need to find sustainable ways to support the human race grows more urgent. To stimulate innovation and meet these challenges, the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences is launching a new initiative to develop team approaches to research in key areas of biology that draw on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines. 

The college will hire 16 new faculty to form six collaborative research clusters spanning themes across the biological sciences. Cluster themes include cellular biophysics, functional proteomics, fungal evolution, genome variation, microbial systems and synthetic biology, and theoretical biology.

Funding for six of the new faculty positions comes from funds provided by U of M President Eric Kaler’s 2012-13 university budget, which invested in excellence by putting forward $7 million for new faculty positions across 11 schools, colleges and campuses. Funding for the other 10 will come from faculty retirements. CBS is creating contiguous research labs in existing buildings for each cluster to promote collaboration.

“The convergence of the sciences, mathematics and engineering, and development of interdisciplinary team approaches are key to addressing complex problems in the world including global health, food safety, energy, and clean water and air,” said Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences. “This is particularly true for using computation and mathematics to analyze the huge amount of data produced by genomics – the study of an organism’s complete genetic instructions.”

“World-class research institutions, like the University of Minnesota, are in a unique position to tackle complex global issues, and the STEM fields play an integral and comprehensive role in these efforts,” said Kaler. “I applaud the College of Biological Sciences for this imaginative approach to learning and engagement. These research clusters will better position our university to discover solutions to the significant challenges facing the state, the nation and the world.”

According to a 2011 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the best way to address population and related challenges is through innovation stimulated by the convergence of biology with mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering.  

Called the “Third Revolution,” this convergence follows from the 1960s molecular biology revolution (ushered in by Crick’s and Watson’s discovery of DNA’s structure), and the turn-of-the-century genomics revolution, which was driven by sequencing technology and computer analysis.

According to MIT Professor and Nobel Laureate Phillip Sharp, "Convergence is a broad rethinking of how all scientific research can be conducted, so that we capitalize on a range of knowledge bases, from microbiology to computer science to engineering design.”

Added Elde, “The outcome will have far-reaching and positive consequences for biological sciences at the University of Minnesota and in the state. It will position the college to compete successfully for funding. It will help us train the next generation of scientists. And it will help support biotechnology industry in Minnesota.”

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