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Systems Biology


Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansisORNL research is examining life across scales, from the genome to the environment, to find biological solutions for sustainable energy sources and a cleaner world. Underpinning such solutions is a better understanding of complex biological systems and their intricate relationships with the environment. To achieve this understanding, ORNL brings together multidisciplinary expertise and special facilities in genomics, computational biology, plant sciences, microbiology, microbial ecology, biophysics, and structural biology. This collective expertise includes collaborations within and outside ORNL and focuses on scientific challenges in biology for Department of Energy (DOE) missions in energy and environment.

Continuing a 50-year legacy that includes 26 R&D 100 awards, ORNL biology and environmental programs are supported by other federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and Environmental Protection Agency, along with several industrial partners. Current systems biology projects comprise the following integrated and complementary research areas.

Research areas

  • Bioenergy — Includes fundamental and applied research projects focused on developing plant feedstocks optimized for biofuel production and improving microbial processes for deconstructing and producing biofuels from biomass.
  • Biological Interfaces Examines the spatial relationships, physical connections, chemical exchanges, and interactions that facilitate the flow of information and materials between cells.
  • Computational Biology and KBase —Focuses on research and development of advanced computational tools and resources for processing, analyzing, visualizing, and integrating complex biological data.
  • Environmental Biology — Investigates the biological mechanisms that influence carbon cycling and sequestration and the behavior of contaminants in the environment.
  • Genomic Sciences — Uses genomics-based approaches and advanced characterization and computational technologies to predictively understand the principles controlling plant and microbial systems important to bioenergy and environmental applications.
  • Structural Biology — Leverages ORNL’s neutron scattering and high-performance computing capabilities to understand the structure and function of biological systems at the atomic, molecular, and cellular levels.
  • Collaborative University Research — Includes joint programs with the University of Tennessee and other institutions that enrich the research enterprise of both ORNL and its collaborators while training the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists.

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