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Bioscience: Bioenergy, Biosecurity, and Health

Los Alamos scientists are developing science and technology to improve pathogen detection, create better therapeutics, and anticipate—even prevent—epidemics and pandemics.
Algal vats
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Los Alamos scientists used genetic engineering to develop magnetic algae, thus making it much easier to harvest for biofuel production. Harvesting algae accounts for approximately 15–20 percent of the total cost of biofuel production—magnetic algae can reduce such costs by more than 90%.

Overview

Charlie McMillan, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory
1:08

Director McMillan on reducing global threats

The fate and security of human health and progress are inextricably tied to humanity’s relationship with plants, animals, and the environment.

At Los Alamos, scientists and engineers are working to unlock many of the mechanisms found in nature to improve humanity’s ability to battle diseases, create new forms of environmentally friendly and abundant energy, bolster human and animal immune systems, and improve agriculture to facilitate the growing of crops for food.

Bioscience research also plays a critical role in America’s national security. Scientific efforts at Los Alamos include finding ways to counter bioterrorism, predicting or mitigating disease epidemics and pandemics, and creating sustainable energy for a secure future. For these reasons, bioscience plays a critical role in Los Alamos’ ability to address many of the nation’s health and security concerns.

Capabilities

  • Bioinformatics and Analytics
  • Biomass and Diversity
  • Biophysical Chemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Computational Modeling
  • Detection and Diagnostics
  • Epidemiology
  • Genome Technologies
  • Molecular Recognition and Design
  • Pathogen Databases
  • Pathogen Science
  • Protein Engineering
  • Structural Biology

Research Directions

Regardless of the origin—natural or man-made—limiting the impact of disease requires rapid identification of disease and an effective, targeted response. LANL scientists are contributing to this effort in many areas, including:

  • Bioenergy. Creating the next generation of biofuels from sources such as photosynthetic plants, algae, and genetically engineered microorganisms that can produce fuel directly from carbon dioxide.
  • Biosecurity and Health. Developing science and technology to detect, battle, and understand pathogens and disease epidemics. The source of these pathogens can be natural (mosquito carrying West Nile Virus) or manmade (bioterrorism).
  • Environmental Microbiology. Studying microorganisms and their complex relationships with their environments—which could be within the soil beneath our feet to the depths of the human digestive system.
  • Genomics and Systems Biology. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are using their renowned expertise in genomics, computation, and experimental biology as the foundation of a dynamic systems biology capability. Applications areas for such work include medicine, pharmaceuticals, ecology and environmental cleanup, chemical manufacturing, and agriculture.
  • Proteins. Working to gain both a complete understanding of the structure and function of proteins, as well as the command of using and engineering proteins to advance research.
  • Cognitive and Neuro Science. Combining expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, mathematics, and even linguistics and psychology to better understand the nature of the human brain and how it works, particularly in how the brain represents, processes, and transforms information.

LANL Facilities and Resources

  • Protein Crystallography Station: This facility uses neutron diffraction techniques to perform groundbreaking work in understanding enzyme structure and function.
  • Los Alamos Genome Center: The Genome Center houses all of the newest sequencing technologies primarily focusing on sequencing critical pathogens and near neighbors as well as microorganisms useful to bioenergy research. In addition to initial sequencing, the Center engages in computational finishing and bioinformatics characterization, database and web services for genome comparisons, metagenome sequencing and analysis for pathogen discovery and biosurveillance.
  • Pathogen Research Databases: Los Alamos has in place extensive databases of genomic sequences for HIV, hepatitis C, hemorrhagic fever viruses, influenza, oral pathogens (both bacterial and viral), and bacteria and viruses responsible for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • High-Throughput Gene Cloning and Protein Production Facility: This facility serves the Tuberculosis Structural Genomics Consortium, the Integrated Center for Structure and Function Innovation, and an NIH project to select antibodies against every human protein.
  • Los Alamos Molecular Recognition Alliance: The objective of this alliance is to develop antibodies and other “affinity reagents” to combat diseases. Los Alamos has developed reagents that counter cholera, plague, anthrax, influenza, and hantavirus.
  • Protein Structure Determination: Multiple facilities at LANL provide capabilities in NMR, and X-ray and neutron diffraction techniques to perform groundbreaking work in new drug-design methods through advanced understanding of protein structures and their functions.
  • Advanced Computing Resources: Access to high-performance computing allows the use of rapid and specialized analysis tools for phylogenetic characterizations (Sequedex), metagenomic assembly, high throughput annotation, evolutionary modeling, computational signature design, and disease epidemiological modeling. 
  • National Flow Cytometry Resource: For over 30 years LANL has been a leader in the development and use of flow cytometry
  • Stable Isotope Resource: This facility fosters the creation of new, efficient routes to synthesize stable isotopically-labeled compounds.

History

Biological research at Los Alamos dates from its very early days when, during the 1940’s, the Atomic Energy Commission established health research units in wartime laboratories to investigate the effects of radiation on living organisms.

More than 70 years later, bioscience research at Los Alamos is a unique, interdisciplinary endeavor that involves more than 400 scientists from several technical divisions throughout the Laboratory.

Today, scientists at Los Alamos integrate experiment, theory, and computational biology and bioinformatics to address global security challenges in health, energy, and the environment.

Related Images

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Los Alamos scientists developed MRIVIEW, an interactive computational tool designed to help researchers investigate brain structure and function.

mosaic protein

Los Alamos scientists are developing mosaic proteins that may one day become the first viable vaccine that can protect humans from HIV (shown above), the virus that causes AIDS.


Innovations for a secure nation

Lab team makes unique contributions to the first bionic eye

Lab team makes unique contributions to the first bionic eye

The Argus II will help people blinded by the rare hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa or seniors suffering from severe macular degeneration.

» All Innovations

Calendars

Contact LANL

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 1663
Los Alamos, NM 87545

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(505) 667-7000

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