Addressing a Systems-Level Need
Systems biology is a collaborative, holistic approach to understanding how life is controlled by complex molecular networks, and is based on a foundational understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Living systems (such as single or multicellular organisms) contain thousands of parts that work in concert to sustain life. Comprehensive, versatile analysis of these parts is needed to understand biology at a systems level. The new Systems Mass Spectrometry core facility at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience seeks to address this need.
“It’s a smart and forward-thinking investment by Georgia Tech because it rightly forecasts the emerging importance of a systems-level understanding of cell biology and disease,” says Matt Torres, assistant professor in the School of Biology, who has spearheaded development of the Systems Mass Spectrometry core facility with Facundo Fernandez, professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
With hopes of creating a new kind of research center, Fernandez says, “systems mass spectrometry is one of the main tools that enables systems biology. We can now generate terabytes of data, something we couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. What I considered cutting edge back then is now ancient.”
Systems biology brings multiple disciplines together with biology to predict how systems change over time and under different conditions, creating the potential for new kinds of scientific exploration. The new core facility stands to benefit from new technologies, but also builds on Georgia Tech’s existing strengths in multiple fields of biological mass spectrometry.
“The difference is, we’re not looking at just a handful of molecules at once,” Fernandez says. “We know that organisms employ a collection of hundreds to thousands of proteins and metabolites, working and reacting with each other. Now we can look at those molecules at once and together.”
A new core facility focused on systems mass spectrometry, is also helping to bridge an important gap, according to Torres.
For years, emerging “omics” strategies and technologies (such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics) have focused on analysis of specific classes of molecules (genes, proteins, metabolites), but have been developed in isolation from one another.
Part of this, Torres says, is due to the rarity of finding both the instrumentation and expertise necessary to accomplish more complex omics level studies. Two of these strategies, proteomics and metabolomics, use mass spectrometry as their core type of instrumentation.
“One would think this should facilitate the marriage into a single ‘proteo-metabolomics’ strategy,” Torres says.
But that’s rarely the case, partly because there are limits in understanding how to properly bridge multiple forms of omics-level data to provide meaningful biological information. With the advent of the new Systems Mass Spectrometry core facility, opening in October, “Georgia Tech is investing in the infrastructure, technology and expertise necessary to bridge the omics gap,” Torres says.
The state-of-the-art core facility, providing both proteomics and metabolomics services, will offer new opportunities for research and educational communities inside and outside of Georgia Tech, “providing an environment in which the next generation of omics strategies can be developed and applied to better understand both fundamental and disease properties of cellular systems,” Torres says.
The Systems Mass Spectrometry core facility is administered by the Petit Institute but is housed in the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB) and managed by David Smalley, who will work with David Gaul, a research scientist in the Fernandez lab.
“They have the right expertise – it’s very difficult to find somebody with the right technical background,” says Fernandez. “It’s one thing to assemble the technology and a research center. To assemble the right people and make the center into something meaningful is something else altogether.”
For more information, contact David Smalley.
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience