MIPT to create a Genome Center

A consortium of Kurchatov Center, which brought together MIPT and seven other scientific organizations this September, held a selection process for creating one of the three world-class centers for genomic studies.

In early 2019, the Russian Government approved the Federal scientific and technical program for the development of genetic technologies for 2019–2027. The program is intended to accelerate the development of genetic technologies, including genome editing technologies, in healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing, as well as to improve measures for the prevention of biological emergencies and respective control activities.

Kurchatov Institute has become the first academic institution that will evaluate the implementation of the program, assess the potential for its commercialization, and provide analytical support.

Three world-class centers for genomic studies, provisioned by the Russian national project “Nauka” (“Research”), will be created as part of the program for the development of genetic technologies.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation has selected the organizations that will host those centers. The applications were reviewed by the Russian Science Foundation and the expert committee under the presidium of the Council for the implementation of the program for the development of genetic technologies.

Three winners have been selected. The first center will be organized under Rospotrebnadzor and focus on “Biosafety and maintaining technological self-sufficiency.” Kurchatov Genome Center has been selected as the second center to work on the following topics: “Genetic technologies for agricultural development” and “Genetic technologies for industrial microbiology.” Kurchatov Genome Center includes Kurchatov Institute, Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SB RAS), All-Russian Research Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology, RAS Institute of Molecular Genetics, MIPT, Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute named by B. P. Konstantinov, Genetika, and Nikitsky Botanical Garden of the Nizhny Novgorod RAS Research Center. The Center for Precision Genome Editing and Genetic Technologies for Biomedicine has been selected for “Genetic technologies for medicine”; the center unites V. A. Engelhardt RAS Institute of Molecular Biology, RAS Institute of Gene Biology, N. I. Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, and Scientific Research Institute of Physical-Chemical Medicine (SRI PCM).

We asked Pavel Volchkov, head of the MIPT Genome Engineering Lab, to comment on the big event: [1] 

— The centers had to be created to concentrate research, education, and translation, i.e. practical application, all in one place. Such powerful centers can give quick feedback and bring rapid development into the area. The only way to implement all the ideas is as a consortium of organizations working closely together.

MIPT's key area of responsibility is education. But we know full well that education is not viable without research, and certainly not without translation. MIPT's task is to create a proper education and research center on campus, in collaboration with organizations included in the consortium. 

Why has MIPT become a winner in this competition? MIPT is powered by its students. The university's programs are focused on physics, math, and computer sciences. That's why MIPT's students are in high demand. At the moment, most genetic studies include a bioinformatic component to various degrees, in no small part. It can be working with Big Data, structural analysis, visualization, machine learning, etc.

Today's leading projects lie at the intersection of different fields of knowledge. Our work combines molecular biology, genetics, and computer sciences (bioinformatics), which makes this focus area quite unique. For instance, our lab was established four years ago, under the 5-100 Project. We make editing instruments and delivery tools and apply them to create genetically modified animal organisms, to develop therapy. That's a lot of tasks and projects. That's why the MIPT Genome Center has been created from our lab, as well as the big world-class MIPT Research Center for Molecular Mechanisms of Aging and Age-Related Diseases, and the incredibly powerful Nanobiotechnology Laboratory led by Maksim Nikitin.

We work with a huge number of students. Now is the time to scale up the individual research and educational projects we work on in the lab, and turn them into dedicated educational programs. We are planning to do so together with our colleagues. We are ready and willing to share by creating our Master's program. The schools will stay as they are. And the Genome Center will become an additional interdepartmental platform for cooperation. It can include laboratories that operate as part of MIPT's other divisions. 

We are creating this center to bring together and reinforce the existing MIPT's groups with an aim to develop new educational programs and research collaborations!

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