Overview of the UCLA-DOE Institute

The UCLA-DOE Institute is an Organized Research Unit of the University of California, Los Angles, descended from an AEC Laboratory established at UCLA in 1947 to further the mission of the Department of Energy, particularly in the health and environmental sciences. The Institute currently operates under a Cooperative Agreement between the Department of Energy and UCLA. The current term of the agreement runs from 2014 – 2019.

The goals of the Institute are determined by DOE staff and the Director and Principal Investigators with advice from the External Advisory Committee. Within UCLA, the Director reports to the Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences (reflecting the health-related history of the Institute) and the Vice Chancellor for Research. From time to time the Institute has sponsored various outreach programs. In the current period one of these programs is Global Mentoring (building centers of excellence abroad to collaborate with and mentor young scientists in various fields related to energy and materials research).

By agreement with DOE, research in the current period emphasizes discovery in the areas of bioenergy and biodesign, carbon capture, microbial genomics, and structural and functional studies of organisms and their constituents of interest to DOE. Also emphasized is the development of technologies that advance such studies. Research efforts are organized into two Divisions: (1) Microbial Genomics and Proteomics and (2) Systems Biology and Design.

Funding from DOE supports the research efforts of 12 Principal Investigators and 6 Core Technology Centers, as well as a lean Administrative Core. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of energy research, the PIs are drawn from 6 departments within the Schools of Letters and Science, Medicine, and Engineering. The Institute shares Boyer Hall with the Molecular Biology Institute, but some PIs and cores are housed in adjacent buildings.

The 6 Core Technology Centers are: the X-ray Diffraction Core, the Macromolecular Crystallization Core, the NMR Core, the Computational Biology Core, the Biological Instrumentation Core, and the Protein Expression Core. Each of these cores operates with support from a mosaic of sources, as well as DOE support. Each has a faculty Director and a professional manager. The Macromolecular Crystallization Core, organized by PI Bowie is associated with the X-ray Diffraction Core. In the last year, this facility performed roughly 1million crystallization experiments, accounting in part for the high productivity of the X-ray Core. The Biochemical Instrumentation Core is run in partnership with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. It offers various spectroscopies, plasmon resonance, thermochemical titration, and so forth. The Computational Biology Core runs three computer clusters and serves scores of researchers in Boyer Hall. The NMR Core is located within the instrument wing of the Department of Chemistry, and like the other cores requires support from several sources. The Protein Expression Core provides expertise and service in molecular cloning and bacterial expression. It carries out much training of UCLA undergraduates in research. In addition, PI Weiss directs a heavily used Fluorescence Microscopy Core under the auspices of the California Nanosystems Institute.

UCLA-DOE Core Technology Centers

Core Director Manager
Biochemical Instrumentation Joe Loo Martin Phillips, mlphill@ucla.edu
Computation Biology Chris Lee Duilio Cascio, cascio@mbi.ucla.edu
NMR Juli Feigon/Robert Clubb Robert Peterson, peterson@mbi.ucla.edu
Protein Expression James Bowie Mark Arbing, marbing@mbi.ucla.edu
X-ray Diffraction Todd Yeates Duilio Cascio, cascio@mbi.ucla.edu
NMR Juli Feigon/Robert Clubb Robert Peterson, peterson@mbi.ucla.edu
Macromolecular Crystallization James Bowie Duilio Cascio, cascio@mbi.ucla.edu

By long-standing agreement between DOE and UCLA, the Institute enjoys a favorable returned overhead rate on grants to the Institute related to the DOE mission. These extra funds have been used to add new PIs to the Institute roster to intensify research in fields of interest to DOE, and to purchase occasional items of major equipment. They also cover administrative salaries, and emergency bridge funds to PIs.

Research areas being pursued within the Institute include: advanced biofuels; carbon capture; the genomics, proteomics and properties of photosynthetic and other energy-related microbes; the structure and function of energy producing organelles; biomass degradation, and plant metabolism. Technology development in the Institute includes: tools; for algal and soil genomics, new methods of gene and protein identification and understanding of RNA regulation, tools for synthetic biology, and methods for microcrystallography and protein design.

The Institute maintains a web site (http://www.doe-mbi.ucla.edu/) which offers an array of services to Institute researchers and the world-wide scientific community. These services include 8 locally compiled databases including the well cited Database of Interacting Proteins. Also offered are an array of servers to aid in structure determination, validation, and functionation. Among the most popular servers are the SAVES structure validation server, the Merohedral Twinning Server, and the SER (Surface Entropy Reduction) Server for identification of mutations designed to enhance protein crystallizability. Maintenance of the web site is the responsibility of Webmaster, Thomas Holton, Holton@mbi.ucla.edu.

Although at UCLA instruction is the responsibility of departments, PIs of the UCLA-DOE Institute offer several courses for training in the technologies developed and used in the Institute. The course Structural Molecular Biology is offered by Clubb, Eisenberg, Feigon, and Yeates for training in methods of determination of atomic structures. This course includes a hands-on laboratory segment, employing the technology cores of the Institute which prepares students for use of the Cores in their research projects. Liao has organized a course on advanced biofuels, which calls on several Institute PIs, Associates, and professional staff for lectures. PIs Lee and Pellegrini offer courses in bioinformatics, PI Merchant in plant biochemistry, and PI Loo offers a course in mass spectrometry and proteomics.