A grant has been awarded to Emory University under the direction of Dr. Justin Gallivan to support acquisition of instruments within the Center for Fundamental and Applied Molecular Evolution. Evolution is the central organizing principle of biology, and is responsible for the intricate complexity of living systems. By combining advances in chemistry, molecular biology, genetics, computation and robotics, it is now possible not only to understand molecular evolution, but also to recapitulate evolutionary processes in the laboratory to solve problems in chemistry, biotechnology, and materials science. The Center for Fundamental and Applied Molecular Evolution (FAME), a joint initiative between Emory and Georgia Tech, was established to seize new opportunities to develop an understanding of the fundamental principles of molecular evolution, and to apply these principles towards the production of new molecules and materials. Researchers within the FAME Center address problems in both fundamental and applied aspects of molecular evolution, such as determining how enzymes evolve to recognize new substrates, altering enzyme substrate specificity, increasing enzyme stability, and evolving enzymes to synthesize new molecules and materials. Solutions to these problems have many practical benefits to society, ranging from understanding the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance to developing new environmentally friendly syntheses of pharmaceuticals using directed molecular evolution. The instrumentation funded by the NSF, including a gene sequencer, high-throughput liquid handling system, colony picker, and plate-reading spectrophotometer, will support two critical elements in the discovery process-the ability to rapidly distinguish evolutionary winners from losers in Darwinian selection, and the ability to understand the molecular basis of the outcome through gene sequencing. The instrumentation will provide researchers within the Center the ability to observe, understand, and direct evolutionary processes in the laboratory in timeframes measured in hours, rather than billions of years.
Acquisition of these instruments will have an immediate and lasting impact on the research and training environment at both Emory and Georgia Tech. The instrument center will serve as a fertile breeding ground to complement the existing intellectual infrastructure. Additionally, these shared instruments will directly support the research efforts of the principal investigators, senior personnel, and their research groups-of these researchers, half are women and several are under-represented minorities. The instruments fill a critical infrastructural need, and will ultimately support the research and training of nearly 100 researchers in the area of molecular evolution over the next three years.
In addition to serving the Emory and Georgia Tech communities, the NSF supported instrumentation will be available to molecular evolution researchers throughout the region. Furthermore, the Center will serve as an important resource in educating the community at large about molecular evolution. Finally, the instruments will aid the quest to understand the basic molecular evolutionary principles that underlie life on earth, and to harness them to solve problems in chemistry, biotechnology, and materials science.