March 3, 2009–Renowned bioinformatics researcher Cathy Wu is a pioneer in her field, which uses computational sciences to catalog and better understand biological sciences. But, Wu says, for her, a piece has long been missing, limiting what she can do.

“The driving force of 21st century biology is integration,” she said. “For us to move one step further we need to see the research we could develop with people in quantitative sciences, like engineering.”

Wu will now have the luxury of working with University of Delaware faculty and researchers in the fields of engineering, computer science, math and biological sciences. She joins UD’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute as the Edward G. Jefferson Chair of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

“Dr. Wu is an outstanding addition to the University’s faculty,” UD Provost Dan Rich said, in announcing her appointment. “She was appointed after an extensive international search. She is a world leader in this critical emerging field and the most appropriate person to hold this new faculty chair, which honors the late Edward Jefferson, former chairman and chief executive officer of the DuPont Co. and a University trustee and benefactor. The Jefferson Chair is funded through an endowment established by the Unidel Foundation, and we are grateful for this support and for the opportunity it has now created for Dr. Wu to join our faculty.”

Before joining UD, Wu served as Professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, and she will retain adjunct status there, traveling to Washington, D.C., once a week. Since 2001, she has led the Protein Information Resource, a major bioinformatics resource that supports genomics, proteomics and systems biology research.

The PIR Web sites are accessible by researchers worldwide and receive more than 4 million hits per month. PIR will now have two branches: one at GU and a second here at UD.

“We are considering this a great expansion of what we can do at PIR,” Wu said.

Wu says she’s excited to take her new post and plans to focus much of her attention on the creation of a new center on campus, the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

“The new center will become a focal point for a lot of synergistic activities,” she said.

Wu explains its importance by noting the changes that have occurred in biology over time. Years ago, she says, biologists used to study a gene or protein for whole career. Scientific advancement means researchers now produce immense amounts of data, and computers have become vital in making sense of it all.

The Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology will be part of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. New graduate programs will be established through the center. Wu aims to have a master’s course of study in place for the 2010-2011 academic year, with a Ph.D. program to follow.

Another benefit of the center, Wu said, is the opportunities she sees for collaborations with other UD entities, including the Energy Institute.

She can think of dozens of examples involving plants and microbial communities, and the immense amount of data that can be collected from them.

“Computational analysis will allow us to better understand bioenergy and the carbon cycle,” she said.

And that, she said, is just the beginning.

Article by Andrea Boyle in UDaily
Photo by Kathy Atkinson