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ARRA Investments in Enabling Technologies for Biomedical Research

Public Health Burden
NIH supports a comprehensive portfolio of molecular biology and basic research aimed at understanding fundamental life processes. The results of such studies provide insights on fundamental aspects of biology and lay the foundation for other studies that will lead to ways to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. In fact, each new finding serves as a building block for establishing a deeper understanding of human health and disease.

Enabling Technologies
New and emerging technologies enable researchers to expand their knowledge, cultivate new and exciting hypotheses, increase efficiency, and more accurately test unique hypotheses. There are a variety of awarded projects in technology which will help to expand our scientific knowledge and improve overall well-being.
  • One grant supports researchers who are developing a new method for discovering viruses in mosquitoes, a common vector for the spread of diseases such as West Nile Virus, encephalitis, and dengue fever. This will facilitate identification of human pathogenic viruses, improve our understanding of their transmission and provide diagnostic tools and targets for the development of anti-virals.1
  • An interdisciplinary team of experimental biologists, computational biologists, and mathematical modelers will tackle the challenge of creating whole transcriptome maps (the complete collection of RNA) at the single nucleotide level of E. coli, a model organism. A comprehensive transcriptome map of E. coli will provide the groundwork for predicting the behavior of other cells, including disease-causing microbes. In accordance with NIH data sharing guidelines, results obtained throughout the course of this project will be made public for analysis, visualization, comparison, and downloading at www.EcoliHub.org/GenExpDB. Likewise, all computational tools implemented or developed in this project will be freely provided to users at www.EcoliHub.org.2
  • Researchers funded by another ARRA grant intend to develop a surface where transmembrane proteins can be deposited into suspended planar bilayers. Current technology relies on a solid, inflexible surface, which limits laboratory experimentation. The creation of “suspended” bilayers gives greater insight to the field of membrane dynamics by enabling investigators to examine and test function in a more natural mode.3
  • Virtually all cellular processes, including those involved in cell growth, differentiation, and apoptosis, rely on specific and carefully regulated protein-protein association and dissociation reactions. Dysregulation of these reactions is characteristic and frequently a cause of many human cancers. Because the interactions that underlie protein complexes are often weak and transient, attempts to identify and characterize critical protein interactions frequently fail. The goal of this project is to overcome these limitations with a new approach termed ‘cognate-complex biotin tagging’ (CBi) which can be used to study the stability of short-lived protein enzyme complexes.4
  • Green chemistry and engineering, which encourage the reduction of pollution at its source, have become more prominent in drug discovery and development. In one grant, researchers are proposing a green chemistry approach to the synthesis of terpenes, a class of hydrocarbons produced by plants. Terpenes constitute one of the most diverse groups of compounds found in nature and have been used as antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer agents in the treatment of human disease. As yields from natural sources are frequently low, and man-made synthesis is challenging and expensive, researchers aim to develop economical and clean enzyme-mediated synthesis of a number of these products.5
  • Molecular oxygen is the most abundant and environmentally benign oxidant available for chemical synthesis; however, fundamental challenges limit its utility in pharmaceutical synthesis. The project funded will build upon recent scientific advances in order to achieve safe and scalable methods for use of molecular oxygen in pharmaceutical synthesis. The proposed research will implement innovative chemistry (new catalytic methods) and engineering (flow-reactor technology) strategies to overcome this limitation, thereby enabling widespread use of a new environmentally benign ("green") method for the development and production of pharmaceuticals.6

  1. 1RC1GM091896-01 -- Virus discovery by deep sequencing and assembly of virus-derived siRNAs -- Ding, Shou-Wei (CA)
  2. 1RC1GM092047-01 -- Comprehensive Mapping and Annotation of the E. coli Transcriptome -- Wanner, Barry L (IN)
  3. 1RC1GM091644-01 -- Suspended Bilayers: New Technology to Study the Dynamics of Membrane Structure -- Rothman, James (CT)
  4. 1RC1GM091424-01 -- Capture of Ubiquitin Conjugation and Deconjugation Enzyme Substrates -- Cohen, Robert (CO)
  5. 1RC1GM090980-01 -- Enzyme-Mediated Synthesis of Functionalized Terpene Structures -- Keasling, Jay D (CA)
  6. 1RC1GM091161-01 -- Catalytic Aerobic Oxidations for Pharmaceutical Synthesis: Flow-Reaction Methods -- Stahl, Shannon S (WI)

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