BioMaPS Overview

The BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology is an interdisciplinary research institute at Rutgers University composed of faculty from the traditional core disciplines of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer science who share a common interest in applying their methods to important problems in biology. The BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology, home of the Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics graduate program, promotes interdisciplinary research and graduate education among experimentalists and theoreticians working on problems encompassing three general areas of research designed to provide a multi-scale view of complex biological systems:

  1. Structural Biology – computational and experimental studies of structures and interactions of biomolecules with natural/synthetic ligands

  2. Systems: Genomics, Proteomics & Synthetic Biology – studies of genetic sequences, proteins, and biomolecular networks

  3. Computational Biochemistry & Translational Medicine – development & application of computational tools for translational research in biomedicine

Regarding structural biology, there is a focus on large biomolecular complexes associated with gene regulation. Rutgers has a tradition of strength in the area of structural biology, as evidenced both by the large group of internationally prominent researchers in the area as well as by the fact that Rutgers is the home of the Protein Data Bank (PDB), the single most important repository for biological macromolecular structure data in the world.

Research on the structural basis for transcription and transcriptional regulation, from the interactions of DNA with polymerase and transcription factors, up through the study of chromatin structure and implications for gene regulation has engaged several BioMaPS-affiliated research groups in collaborative research and was the basis of an Institute sponsored NIH P20 Center grant. The approaches taken range from molecular level analysis to more knowledge-based methods. In recent years, there has been a convergence between these two extremes. Hybrid methods that combine insights from biophysical understanding are being used to build more interpretable machine learning tools for predicting intermolecular interactions. The synergy between the investigation of three dimensional structures, molecular modeling, and bioinformatics in the context of the Proteomics Building planned for the Busch campus creates a rich environment for cutting edge research on frontier problems in structural biology.

The modeling of biomolecular networks or systems biology at a cellular level addresses how complex cellular dynamics become possible through the interactions of simpler components involving enzymatic control of elementary chemical steps. Several BioMaPS faculty members, with interest in nonlinear dynamics, have been investigating how structures of such networks determine possible dynamical behavior, with an emphasis on nontrivial qualitative predictions that are robust to refinements of the biological model. Applications of these tools range from understanding the regulation of metabolism in bacteria to the exploration of the “landscape” in which apparently irreversible cell fate specification takes place in eukaryotes. The possibilities of interactions with stem cell related activities on campus are evident and will stimulate this effort to gain further strength.

The undertakings in computational biochemistry and translational medicine range from the molecular to the cellular to the organismal level. BioMaPS Institute researchers have been actively collaborating with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to bring quantitative tools to cancer research. The subjects include bioinformatic approaches to identify cancer subtypes, the study of biomarkers, tissue-level modeling, and the study of the population genetics of cancer related SNPs. Approaching translational biomedical research using modern computational and mathematical tools from multiple perspectives is a major developing theme of the BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology.

Students completing the interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics are awarded Master’s and/or Ph.D. degrees. In addition, the program partners with numerous other graduate programs at Rutgers, offering the opportunity for students to earn Joint Ph.D. degrees, individually tailored to provide depth of education and research in a traditional area of study as well as breadth, resulting from the interdisciplinary nature of the fusion. These partnerships are breaking down barriers between traditional disciplines and creating strong interdisciplinary links as scientists explore complex biological phenomena using increasingly expansive sources of data.