The UC Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program (UCBREP) serves all ten campuses and the three UC administered national laboratories: Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley and Los Alamos. The Program was established in 1985 by the first director, noted Nobel Laureate UCLA Molecular Biologist Paul Boyer. In January 2002 following a systemwide competition, the Program was moved from UC Berkeley to its present home at UC Davis. UCBREP has awarded approximately $25 million in grants and supported over 900 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.
Evolving over the last few years, UCBREPs grant structure did not adequately track the impact that the Program support of graduate and postdoc training was having on biotechnology research and development in the State of California. Because there were more perceived prestigious federal training programs, our relatively small award was lost among the marquee names. Graduate education has become more expensive, which decreases facultys ability to fund and train students in novel and cutting edge science. The lucrative ($50,000 per annum) Graduate Research and Education in Adaptive bio-Technology (GREAT) Training Program was created to support environments that foster novel non-traditional cutting-edge cross-disciplinary research and training at the interface of the life and physical/computational sciences and supplemented, where necessary, by mentors to provide breath in cross-disciplinary fields. UC BREPs GREAT Training Program funds researchers who display the greatest expertise and creativity working at the interface of these complementary disciplines.
The GREAT Training Program graduated its first trainees during 2006.
Notable accomplishments include those of Adam Seipel, UCSC, who secured an appointment as a tenure-track assistant professor at Cornell immediately out of graduate school. Adam made headlines the week of August 17, 2006 as a member of the group that characterized a gene in the neocortex that has changed rapidly during human evolution- a step towards understanding what sets us apart from our closest cousins. Seipels seminal work, which appeared in the journal Nature, applied new computational methods for the detection of functional elements in the human genome, reducing protein-coding genes from an initially estimated 35,000 to only 20,000 to 25,000. Adam noted in a letter that he had great difficulty obtaining support as a returning graduate student, and the GREAT program made it possible for him to undertake a novel project and complete graduate school in record time.
Another milestone was achieved in November 2006 when the HYPERCEST biosensor, invented by GREAT student Tom Lowery in UC Berkeley Professor David Wemmers lab, made national headlines. The biosensor includes xenon as the signal source in a specially designed molecular cage and it dramatically increases the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging which will have extensive clinical application.
In April 2007 Roy Wollman, working in Professor Jonathan Scholeys lab, UC Davis, scored a principal paper in Science for his work using a full genome RNAi screen to demonstrate just how unexpectedly complicated cell division is involving some 200 genes (150 previously unknown) which provides us with insight into potential targets for cancer therapeutics among other things.
Current trainee, Fulai Lin, UCLA, made the cover of Nature Methods with his work on a revolutionary interactome mapping system for protein complexes, which will allow meaningful interrogation of large-scale data sets, a fundamental requirement of systems biology.
Katie Whitehead, UCSB is forming her own company to exploit her work on intestinal patch delivery systems for protein therapeutics which may some day obviate the need for unappealing injections of certain therapeutics.
The GREAT fellowship is achieving recognition as a mark of supreme achievement and a desirable addition to a top fight CV.