Waxmonsky spent the summer in close contact with sea creatures. She wasn't
on a sunny beach - she was collecting genes from brittle stars in an RIT
biology lab. Using molecular biology and bioinformatics techniques, she
searched for subtle variations at different stages of embryo development.
Waxmonsky, right, has been working on research involving marine
animals called brittle stars with Assistant Professor Hyla Sweet.
Waxmonsky, a second-year biotechnology
major, received a fellowship through RITs honors program to continue
research in developmental biology she began last winter with Assistant
Professor Hyla Sweet.
I never expected to
have the chance to do research in my first year, says Waxmonsky.
Its an amazing opportunity. Her enthusiasm, fueled
by her RIT experience, is steering her toward a career involving research,
something I can do to help people.
Biotechnology holds great
promise in that regard. Bio-engineered products such as crops that resist
pests and pharmaceuticals that fight rheumatoid arthritis and anemia
are in widespread use. Theres hope that biotechnology soon will
produce improved anti-cancer drugs, foods that can prevent certain human
diseases, and even a replacement for blood. News of breakthroughs comes
Through new academic programs
and partnerships with industry leaders, RIT is forging a significant
role in what has been called the biotech century. But while
the mapping of the human genome in 2000 stepped up worldwide interest
in the field, biotechnology has been an important part of the RIT landscape
for two decades. In 1983, RIT offered the nations first B.S. program
Professor Michael Savka, left, checks the results of an experiment
with biotechnology majors Mark Mentrikoski and Michelle Badura.
This fall, the university
begins B.S. and M.S. degree programs in bioinformatics an emerging
field that merges biology and information technology. As a pioneer in
this area, RIT received a $150,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
to develop the masters degree program, and $75,000 from the National
Science Foundation to develop an undergraduate course, Introduction
to Bioinformatics Computing, which can be used by other universities.
Also, this summer more than 25 biologists and computer scientists from
across the nation visited RIT for cross-training in bioinformatics with
the help of a $32,000 grant from NSF.
Industry relationships are
also expanding. In July, IBM Corp. announced creation of the IBM Center
for Evolutionary and Comparative Genomics at RIT. The technology giant
donated a cluster of computers to power research in such areas as developing
software for simulating DNA mutations and comparing protein structures.
Breneman, Erik Thoresen and Frank Flores (from left), employees
of a Genencor International facility in Wisconsin, participated
in a workshop at RIT's Center for Biotechnology Education and Training
Because biotech companies
have identified a need for additional education for from page 9 workers,
RIT has begun offering customized workshops.With backing from major
corporate players in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, RIT
has developed the Center for Biotechnology Education and Training (CBET),
designed to prepare the workforce needed for this important industry.
A proposal to fund a new facility for the center is being considered
by New York state.
With our students as
well as in our partnerships with industry, our approach is very pragmatic,
says Professor Douglas Merrill, head of the department of biological
sciences. We prepare our students with practical, marketable skills.
Those skills are very much
in demand. According to industry sources, nearly half a million people
are employed in biotechnology nationally, and industry revenues are
approaching $47 billion annually. In New York state, employment has
increased from 3,000 workers in 1993 to more than 5,600 in 2001. Many
companies, government agencies and educational institutions are working
to position Western New York as the Silicon Valley of biotechnology,
and the workforce is a key.
In a field like biotechnology,
lifelong learning and employee development is a critical success factor,
notes Jack Huttner, vice president of corporate communications and public
affairs for Genencor International. RIT has been an important
resource. The Center for Biotechnology and Training has developed specialized
training for our employees around the world. CBET supports this effort
in two ways: They keep us up to date on rapidly developing technology
and they provide cross-functional training so our scientists can interact
to create maximum value.
RIT's increased efforts in biotechnology are (from left) Douglas
Merrill, chair of the biological sciences department; Roy Snoke,
director of the Center for Biotechnology Education and Training;
and Gary Skuse, director of bioinformatics.
RIT biotechnology alumni
find themselves with a number of options. Some go on to graduate school
and do extremely well. For example, Donna Thibault 01,
who recently completed her first year of a Ph.D. program in immunology
at Stanford University, this year received a prestigious National Science
Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
Other grads immediately launch
careers in the field. Jones George 00 went to work for Wyeth,
the multi-national pharmaceutical company, and is now an associate engineer
with the bioinformatics technology operations group in Andover, Mass.
My main responsibility
is managing the sequencing LIMS (laboratory information management system),
he explains. Scientists throughout the country use the system to analyze
DNA samples a huge task that involves sequencing the DNA and
searching for any matches through massive databases. I also get
to work on other projects such as software development and research
any new and exciting technologies we could take advantage of,
In high school, George was
interested in both computers and genetics. At RIT, he learned that the
two intersected in the new field of bioinformatics. I found I
was really interested in this, he says. Computers make the
Merrill says that although
RIT is becoming more involved with industry, the focus remains on students.
Faculty members are involved in research, and that provides students
with opportunities for experiences that go beyond the classroom.
Assistant Professor Michael
Savka, for instance, is developing smart plants that can
detect and evade pathogenic bacteria. Ultimately, he hopes his work
will lead to improved corn, the most important crop in the U.S.
Savka was awarded a two-year, $74,000 research grant from the U.S. Department
of Agriculture National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.
This research will
increase our understanding of quorum-sensing mechanisms in important
bacterial plant pathogens, says Savka. Our goals and approach
will facilitate the evaluation of a novel corn disease-control system
and will contribute to the improvement in and development of more sustainable
I always try to involve
students in my work, says Savka. This past year, second-year biotech
majors Mark Mentrikoski and Michelle Badura worked with Savka. The two
students and Savka gave a presentation on their work at the American
Society of Plant Biologists, and Badura was accepted into a summer research
program at the University of Wisconsin.
If youre going
to turn out good scientists, says Merrill, they have to
work with good scientists. I believe that we have the best team of biotech
educators/ scientists in the country. That gives us the foundation to
take on new challenges, to keep RIT at the forefront of biotechnology.