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DOE Genomic Science Program: From Genome Sequences to Understanding

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The Genomic Science program (formerly Genomics:GTL and Genomes to Life) is run by the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER). This program aims to develop a predictive understanding of biological systems relevant to energy production and other DOE missions in environmental remediation and climate change mitigation (see box, Genomic Science Program Goal and Objectives, below). Genomic Science program research is conducted at national laboratories and universities and includes single-investigator projects, multi-institutional collaborations, and fundamental research centers. The DNA sequence of an organism’s complete genome is the starting point to understanding any biological system. Scientists from the three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers and other projects of the Genomic Science program are working with the DOE Joint Genome Institute to sequence the genomes of energy-related plants, as well as microbes and fungi that degrade biomass or impact plant productivity. Building on this foundation of genomic information, the whole-systems understanding of biology will enable scientists to redesign proteins, biochemical pathways, and even entire plants or microbes important to solving bioenergy challenges and meeting other DOE needs. Even though the specific functions of these systems vary, common fundamental principles control the behavior of all biological systems. Knowledge of these underlying principles will advance biological solutions to DOE missions. Several developments have converged in recent years to suggest that systems biology research into microbes and plants may be able to overcome critical roadblocks to large-scale production of fuels from plant biomass. The ability to rapidly sequence the DNA of any organism is a critical but modest part of these new capabilities. Others include:

  • Development of high-throughput techniques and commercially available reagents for protein production and characterization to test thousands of natural and engineered protein variations.
  • Emergence of a range of new instrumentation for observing proteins and other cell constituents to determine, for example, how cell walls are constructed.
  • Availability of technologies for high-resolution imaging— spanning spatial scales from molecular to cellular to microbial community—that can be used to help understand, for example, why rates of cellulose degradation vary.
  • Major advances in the integration of computational modeling, algorithm and software development, and model-driven laboratory experimentation to enable solutions in bioenergy and systems biology.
In addition to these activities in the Genomic Science program, BER is supporting related genomic bioenergy collaborative research with other governmental agencies. A research program jointly sponsored by BER and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports genome-based approaches to accelerate plant-breeding programs and improve potential bioenergy crops.

Credit or Source: Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.


US DOE. 2009. New Frontiers in Characterizing Biological Systems: Report from the May 2009 Workshop, DOE/SC-0121, US Department of Energy Office of Science. (p. 26) (website)

US DOE. 2010. Bioenergy Research Centers: An Overview of the Science, DOE/SC-0127, US Department of Energy. (p. 2) (website)

U.S. DOE 2012. Biosystems Design: Report from the July 2011 Workshop, DOE/SC-0141, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. (p. 5) (PDF)

U.S. DOE. 2012. DOE Joint Genome Institute Strategic Planning for the Genomic Sciences: Report from the May 30–31, 2012, Workshop, DOE/SC-0152, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. (PDF)

Prepared by the Biological and Environmental Research Information System, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and