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IGB-BGI Summer Institute in Evolutionary Genomics


As part of an international exchange of knowledge and ideas, the Institute for Genomic Biology held the second in a series of learning and discussion workshops with BGI (formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute). This iteration saw the IGB host 12 students from BGI for the week, from May 19th to May 24st, 2013. The first workshop was held in Shenzhen, China, from January 21st to January 25th, 2013, when seventeen members of the IGB traveled to the BGI facility in the Yantian District of Shenzhen.

The first day began after a thirteen-hour flight from Beijing to Chicago for the students. Upon arrival, they were greeted by a delegation of IGB members who then showed them around the city, including visits to the Shed Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and the shopping district. At the end of the day the group returned to Champaign, where the BGI group was housed at the Illini Union Hotel.

After an introduction to the IGB by Director Gene Robinson, the second day featured a lecture by Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) Deputy Director Isaac Cann on structural and evolutionary studies of archaeal DNA reproduction, a field of research founded by the late IGB member Professor Carl Woese. The group then met with Victor Jongeneel, Director of High-Performance Biological Computing (HPCBio) for an overview of high-performance computing at Illinios, followed by a tour of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to view the Blue Waters supercomputer, one of the most powerful in the world. This was of particular interest to the group, as much of BGI’s work is focused on high throughput genomics computing. The evening ended with a talk on the honey bee genome by Head of Entomology May Berenbaum.

Day three of the workshop featured a field trip to Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois, led by Professor of Geology and Microbiology and Director of the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center, Bruce Fouke. While there, the group toured the forests and canyons as well as attended Dr. Fouke’s lecture on the environmental metagenomics of Starved Rock’s microbial ecosystem.

The following day the group attended a series of lectures by IGB faculty on a variety of genomic interests, from computational comparative genomics to antibiotic discovery and mammalian limb evolution. Professors from several research themes at the IGB spoke, including Bill Metcalf and Lisa Stubbs from Molecular and Cellular Biology, Ray Ming of Plant Biology, Jian Ma of Bioengineering, and Karen Sears from the School of Integrative Biology.

On their final day, the BGI group attended a lecture by microbiologist Brenda Wilson on comparative perspectives of primate microbiomes. The talk focused on their work studying vaginal ecosystems, a part of the human microbiome previously neglected in research. After additional lectures by Andrew Leakey of Plant Biology and microbiologist Rachel Whitaker, the group had lunch with the Dr. Robinson, who gave his insight into the IGB’s philosophy and research opportunities.

After lunch, the BGI students spent the afternoon in the fields surrounding Champaign, with a tour of the grounds and equipment of the EBI Energy Farm with the farm’s Deputy Director of Operations, Tim Mies. Before turning in for their last evening in Illinois, the group had the rare opportunity to experience bowling at the Illini Union – of the 12 members, only two had ever bowled before.

BGI aims to develop research collaboration and provide scientific support to scientists all over the world, and to contribute to the advancement of innovative biological and genomic research. The IGB shares these goals and gratefully acknowledges BGI for joining us in this series of workshops.

Founded in Beijing with a mission to support the development of science and technology, build strong research teams, and promote the development of scientific partnership in genomics, BGI’s headquarters were later relocated to Shenzhen as the first citizen-managed, non-profit research institution in China. BGI engages in large-scale, high-accuracy projects, such as sequencing 1% of the human genome for the International Human Genome Project.

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