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October 31, 2001

UW consolidates departments to form Department of Genome Sciences

The UW Board of Regents, at its Oct. 19 meeting, approved the consolidation of the Department of Genetics in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Molecular Biotechnology in the School of Medicine. The merger creates the new Department of Genome Sciences in the School of Medicine.

Professor Stan Fields, noted for developing the two-hybrid system to analyze protein interactions, is the acting chair of the new department. He is working with Dr. Maynard Olson, acting chair of the former Department of Molecular Biotechnology, and Dr. Breck Byers, chair of the former Department of Genetics, both of whom played leadership roles in launching the new department.

“The new Department of Genome Sciences creates an organizational unit necessary for the UW to build quickly and thoughtfully on its strengths in genetics and genomics. The excellence and the broad expertise of the two faculties joining in the new department — and the multidisciplinary nature of much of their work — hold much promise in furthering the outstanding genomics research and education under way at the UW Academic Medical Center,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“This will be done through coordinated faculty and facilities development, research, and graduate and undergraduate education within the department, as well as through interdisciplinary endeavors with other departments.”

Genomic advances influence the activities of many UW academic units. There are about 20 faculty in the new Department of Genome Sciences, with roughly 20 additional affiliate and adjunct faculty.

Faculty from the former Department of Genetics bring internationally recognized research on genomic analysis of model organisms, including selected bacteria, yeast, nematodes, and fruit flies. This month, Dr. Lee Hartwell was jointly named a winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for work on yeast genes that control the cell cycle and maintain genetic stability, work principally done while a member of the Department of Genetics. Hartwell is president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and a UW professor of genetics and adjunct professor of medicine. The faculty from the Department of Genetics also bring to the new department strong basic science programs using whole-genome approaches in mouse, human and parasite biology.

The molecular biotechnology faculty contribute expertise in studying human-genetic variations, in designing analytical technologies, and in creating mathematical models. These researchers have developed and applied many tools to explore the frontiers of biology and medicine. Moreover, the molecular biotechnology unit has reached out to schoolchildren to prepare them to make informed decisions about future genomic advances.

Research in molecular biotechnology has encompassed many fields — chemistry, engineering, physics, computer sciences, statistics and mathematics, as well as biology and medicine. Both genetics and molecular biotechnology faculty members bring leading programs in computational molecular biology to this merger.

The UW recently received two five-year grants of $15 million each from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to form Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science, for inaugurating the next phase of research into understanding how the human genome functions.

The UW School of Medicine faculty includes four Nobel Prize winners. The new Department of Genome Sciences includes eight members of the National Academy of Sciences. More information about the department is available at http://www.gs.washington.edu/

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