By David Chao, PhD, President and CEO
Examining a problem from a different vantage point can often lead to valuable and unexpected insights. In the realm of biological research, new visualization technologies advance our understanding of life by revealing what was previously hidden or unnoticed.
Programs like Google Earth now enable an unprecedented level of immersion in faraway places that we may never get to visit in person. These geobrowsers combine ground, aerial and satellite images to allow us to explore and examine physical features of our planet. The ability to pan, zoom and rotate our view of a three-dimensional representation of the world provides anyone with a web browser the opportunity to explore the world with a whole new level of breadth and depth.
Technologies based on similar principles are now helping biologists gain a new perspective on the subjects of their investigations. For instance, highly detailed three-dimensional digital models of tissues and organisms can now be built by combining hundreds or thousands of individual microscopic images. Using a geobrowser-like program, researchers explore the reconstructed models at a macro scale and then zoom in on particular regions of interest with astonishing detail.
This issue’s cover story gives a glimpse into how Stowers researchers are using visualization technologies to study biological systems from new vantage points. One of these projects involves the high-resolution imaging of the planarian flatworm, an organism well known for its exceptional regenerative capabilities. The ambitious goal of these studies is to create an interactive representation of the entire animal in order to reveal new relationships between structure and function and to provide a baseline reference for future studies. Other visualization projects focus on how the structure of a particular protein complex helps chromosomes sort properly and how cancer stem cells are recruited to repopulate tumor tissue after treatment relapses.
Such bold undertakings benefit from the type of teamwork that abounds at the Institute. The Institute’s thirteen scientific support facilities and centers are key leaders in the Institute’s efforts to apply new technologies to biological problems. Interspersed with investigator labs on campus, the scientific support groups offer a wide variety of services and collaborative opportunities, such as DNA sequencing, computational analysis, and highresolution imaging.
New ways of seeing things can come not only from a new set of technologies but also from a new set of eyes. Each year, the Institute benefits from the fresh perspectives of an elite group of undergraduate summer scholars performing hands-on research in labs across the Institute.
Year after year, we are amazed by what these budding scientists are able to absorb and achieve during their time at the Institute. Another article in this issue introduces you to some of these scholars and describes how their infectious enthusiasm and passion boost everyone’s energy level each summer.
As you read through the pages that follow, I hope you enjoy learning about some of our latest research findings and some of the people who make the Institute a very special place to work.