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KNOXVILLE — The Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been awarded $21.7 million in federal grants to participate in the “Genomes to Life” research program, and will be assisted in its research by the University of Tennessee.

ORNL will either lead or participate in three of the five projects included in “Genomes to Life,” which will study the role of proteins in the creation and regulation of microbes.

Thomas Zacharia, the national laboratory’s associate director for computational sciences, said computers have taken a large role in biological sciences.

“One of the fundamental things that the program, and particularly the computing-intensive end of the program is going to focus on,” Zacharia said, “is developing a set of tools and capabilities in high-end computing that will allow us to do computational biology on a scale that we could not have imagined in the past.”

Zacharia said the number of potential protein shapes is so numerous that computer-driven analysis is a necessity.

UT participates with ORNL in the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences. Zacharia said the JICS will be of tremendous help in analyzing protein shapes and capabilities during the program.

“In the joint institute, we have UT and ORNL putting their best foot forward together,” Zacharia said, “to do something that is much grander in scale, more challenging than what each of the institutions can do individually.”

Zacharia said this is the first project that has specific funding for JICS.