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Department awarded £1.2 million for biological research

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11 May 2009

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Bioinformatics and biological research in the department has been strengthened thanks to awards totalling £1.2million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

Dr Julian Gough, Reader of Bioinformatics, conducts research in computational and theoretical molecular biology. He has been awarded nearly £700,000 to develop and maintain the SUPERFAMILY database for protein domains of known structure in genomes.

The resource has already had a wide impact, collecting over 750 citations, but needs to be made sustainable in the face of the data coming from the rapid acceleration of genome sequencing, structural genomics projects and functional information from high-throughput molecular biology experiments.

Dr James Marshall, Lecturer in Machine Learning and Biological Computation, is known for his research in behavioural biology and decision-making. He has received a grant of over £500,000, together with Professor Nigel Franks in the School of Biological Sciences, to investigate group decision-making in social insects.

This experimental and theoretical project will extend Dr Marshall's groundbreaking work on drawing formal parallels between optimal decision-making circuits in the primate brain, and collective decision-making during house-hunting by colonies of rock ants and honeybees. This work was recently published in Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, and was covered in a special feature on 'Ants' in the Guardian.

Drs Gough and Marshall, talking about the award, said: "These two independent awards are a strong indication that the growth area of bioinformatics and biological research has become well established in Computer Science."

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Head of the Department, added: "This is a major award for Bristol and the first time that Computer Science has received grants by the BBSRC. It will enable us to strengthen life sciences not only within the Department but also across the Faculty and the University."

From 2010 we will offer a Masters degree in Machine Learning and Computational Biology with optional units available to undergraduates.