Substantial New Grant

MRC Co-operative: Enabling Technologies in Life Science

The recent announcement of the completion of the sequence of the human genome (the letters in our DNA that describe most of the components of a living cell) heralds a revolutionary new era for biological and medical sciences. Exploiting this new knowledge will lead to effective treatments for currently deadly diseases, such as heart disease & cancer; viral infections, like AIDS and hepatitis, and it even holds out the possibility of reversing or at least slowing the process of ageing.

Although we might now have the instruction manual for the human "kit", making sense of these instructions will require us to understand the assembly of the "model" itself, i.e. how do all the parts fit together. Like many instruction manuals this one appears not written in English. To be precise, it is incomplete, containing just one chapter entitled An inventory of parts. The subsequent chapters, which define how these parts fit together to make a "model", are missing and it is the challenge of life science to draft these chapters and thereby gain an understanding of life, health and disease. The team at Leeds is poised to use expertise from physics, mathematics and biochemistry to develop new techniques, which will underpin this next advance in knowledge. The techniques will automate and accelerate discovery and will allow us to:


Human beings are considerable more complex than simple kit models and the complexity of the problems faced by researchers is so great that a new form of doing the science itself needs to be developed. The Co-operative grant is a step in that direction, allowing scientists from differing disciplines to pool their expertise to solve complex problems. Physicists and engineers are already used to such highly collaborative efforts following the successes of the Manhattan and Apollo Projects. For biologists and medical scientists this is a new venture but it will help to train the next generation of young scientists in the methods required to tackle large scale problems.

One key to the solving the complexity issue is to automate the experimental approach used and the MRC has supported the purchase of advanced laboratory robotics, unique to the UK, to allow us to solve problems rapidly.

John Colyer,

Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology,

University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT.


+44-(0)113-233-3167 fax