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Starting the Evolutionary Systems Biology Group at UW-Madison

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Laurence Loewe, founder of evolution@home, joins the faculty of the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Starting the Evolutionary Systems Biology Group at UW-Madison

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery is built for interdisciplinary research and will house many research groups, including one in evolutionary systems biology

Last year an event happened that will significantly impact evolution@home and this website for quite some time to come. Laurence Loewe was invited to join the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in order to set up a research group in evolutionary systems biology. The second half of 2010 was very busy with organizing the move from Edinburgh, Scotland to Madison, Wisconsin. 

Today marks the official end of the moving period, which also included the evolution@home website and all evolution@home data collected over the years. Today Laurence Loewe will join the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as faculty in the rank of assistant professor.  :-)

Wait a moment, that's confusing. Which institute? Laboratory of Genetics or Wisconsin Institute of Discovery?

Welcome to Madison. There are so many biological research institutes of all sorts and flavors that any quick overview is impossible due to the many different links and types of organizational units. Biological research here is distributed across many schools and research centers. So what is the story in this case?

UW-Madison has a spectacular track-record when it comes to interdisciplinary research. The barriers for building links between researchers in different departments or schools are very low, generating an exceptionally collaborative atmosphere. I don't know right now who exactly was the first to come up with a research center that would build on this interdisciplinary atmosphere and take this to a new level. In any case, it was John Morgridge, former CEO of Cisco, who made sure that something would happen by donating 50 million dollars towards this cause. This was matched by the state and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to develop an innovative concept for how interdisciplinary research might look like in the 21st century. Here is not the space to explain all interesting details. That is done much better on the website: As a result of this there are two institutes now, which are both part of the "Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery" (plural): the private "Morgridge Institute for Research" and the public "Wisconsin Institute for Discovery" (singular).

Part of the concept for the public part is that each researcher there has to have a "home department" that makes sure the research is at least good enough for use in one discipline. In addition the home departments serve as a link to the rest of the campus to make sure the new interdisciplinary research is well integrated. This explains the two: Laurence Loewe will be physically located in the Systems Biology Theme in the brand new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and will have the hundred years older Laboratory of Genetics as a tenure home (where important breakthroughs in evolutionary genetics were made). This is ideal for working towards a key goal of evolutionary systems biology: bringing together systems biology and evolutionary genetics. And it sure helps that the computer science department is also just around the corner ...

What does all this mean for evolution@home. That is not precisely clear at the moment and will depend on a number of details that are being worked out. As soon as the picture becomes clearer, you will be able to read about it on these pages. One thing is clear: evolution@home will not be shut down... and for the time being, it will continue as usual.

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