FSU will host biologists from around the world to create ‘new science’

Genotypes and phenotypes aren’t exactly household words outside the realm of the life and biological sciences—yet—but Florida State University biologists mean to integrate those emerging fields into a brand-new science by hiring a "cluster" of world-class scientists who will lead research to connect underlying genetics of organisms to overall appearance and behavior.

On Feb. 2 and 3 at an FSU workshop that will assemble some of the best minds in the fields and feature some high-powered brainstorming, the university will move one step closer to making its "Integrating Genotypes and Phenotypes" initiative a groundbreaking reality.

"Great things are expected to come from the Integrating Genotype and Phenotype cluster and the exceptional people we hope to recruit for it," said FSU College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Travis. "A major challenge of biology is to integrate genomic-level data with the phenotype of the whole organism. This bold move will essentially create a ‘new science’ and put FSU at its forefront, and the workshop is a key next step in that process."

The upcoming workshop will feature top FSU researchers such as evolutionary geneticist David Houle and internationally renowned scientists from universities such as Yale and Columbia and other institutions worldwide. It kicks off Friday at 8:30 a.m. and runs throughout the afternoon in room 499 of Dirac Science Library on the FSU campus. Sessions will continue Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Pavilion Room at Wakulla Springs State Park.

Invited speakers include science luminaries such as Indiana University’s Rudy Raff, a chief architect of the merging of developmental and evolutionary biology into a new field called "evo-devo," and the University of Arizona’s Rich Jorgensen, who discovered a genetic phenomenon known as RNA silencing.

The planned "Integrating Genotypes and Phenotypes" cluster hire comprises one of several innovative cluster hire projects being undertaken across a range of disciplines at FSU—critical components of the university’s ambitious Pathways of Excellence goals.

With Pathways as a blueprint, said Travis, FSU biological science department faculty are busy laying the groundwork for an eventual cluster hire of eight faculty members with diverse but complementary research interests. This cluster would be expected to collaboratively drive the Integrating Genotype and Phenotype initiative to generate a rare degree of focused talent and extraordinary results.

"We are endeavoring to bring together two of the most exciting areas in biology—recently discovered systems of inheritance and gene regulation that fall outside the traditional genetic paradigm, and the use of evolutionary thinking to interpret all of life," said Houle, an associate professor in the FSU biology department and co-organizer of the upcoming workshop. "Success in this effort will finally allow us to understand the vast amount of information in the human genome, and potentially to transform the way biology is done."

The challenge, added Houle, is to generate interdisciplinary interactions between researchers with very different research traditions. "This FSU workshop will bring together the stars of two fields in pursuit of common language and goals that can bring this innovative FSU initiative to fruition."

While there will be ample seating for the Feb. 2 sessions on campus, seating during Saturday’s presentations at Wakulla Springs State Park will be limited; to participate, please e-mail Houle at dhoule@bio.fsu.edu. For more information on the workshop, visit the Web site at http://www.bio.fsu.edu/genphensearch/kickoff/.