Detecting biological threats top goal of UH project

HOUSTON, May 20, 2005 Researchers at the University of Houston have been awarded a homeland security grant to develop a method for identifying bacteria and viruses that could be used in bioterrorism.

The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) recently awarded the grant to a group of bioinformatics researchers at UH to study DNA probes for detecting emerging or engineered pathogens. The project, titled "Tools for Ultraspecific Probe/Primer Design," started in April as part of the Bioinformatics and Assays Development Program and is headed by Yuriy Fofanov, assistant professor of computer science and of biology and biochemistry.

"We anticipate that our research results will bring us closer to rapid detection and identification of microorganisms and viruses that might be used in a terrorist attack," Fofanov said.

As principal investigator, Fofanov, director of the UH Bioinformatics Lab, is joined by co-investigators George Fox, a professor of biology and biochemistry and adjunct professor of chemical engineering, and Richard C. Willson, a professor of chemical engineering and professor of biology and biochemistry. For Phase I of the project, anticipated to last 10 months, HSARPA awarded nearly $300,000 to UH, with approximately $500,000 to be awarded for Phase II, depending upon results and how the agency's program and budget evolves over the next year.

At the core of this research is bioinformatics, the use of computer science in biological research to analyze the composition of molecules, especially in understanding genomic data. HSARPA chose to fund the UH bioinformatics project based on preliminary results made possible through financial assistance from the university's Texas Learning and Computation Center that gave $225,000 in funding for the UH program's initial research.

"The project uses the most advanced genomic computations to develop biological threat agent detection reagents th

Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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