NEWS | Sept. 11, 2011

NRL hosts first annual Karles Invitational Conference

By Donna McKinney

The Naval Research Laboratory hosted the first annual Karles Invitational Conference, named in honor of Drs. Jerome and Isabella Karle, on August 15 and 16. The professional contributions of Dr. Jerome Karle, 1985 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and Dr. Isabella Karle, a 1993 Bower Award Laureate and 1995 recipient of the National Medal of Science, were critical in enabling the resolution of the molecular structure and function of complex macromolecules.

While fundamental in nature, the Karles' contributions continue to have a significant impact on the basic and applied physical, chemical, metallurgical, geological and biological sciences. In commemoration of the Karles' achievements and broad scientific impact, NRL initiated the annual invitational conference to convene the leading authorities and innovators from scientific disciplines that are on the verge of producing contributions with similar reach and impact. In recognizing the rapid progress of two fields that are helping the research community realize the promise of the post-genomics era, NRL selected Microbial Systems and Synthetic Biology as the topic for the first conference.

The completion of the first decade of research in both fields has resulted in the development of the tools and methods necessary to make global cellular measurements, integrate these data to map, model and predict cellular function, and use this systems-level understanding to guide the rational design, construction and optimization of novel genetically engineered circuits and organisms. As a result of this considerable progress, both fields now lie on the verge of combining to develop transformative bioengineered solutions for recalcitrant problems in energy and biofuel synthesis, environmental remediation, chemical and biological sensing, pharmaceutical synthesis and materials science. It is this potential that has elicited considerable interest and investment, and resulted in the prioritization of systems and synthetic biology research in academia, industry and government.

The goal of the conference was to bring together those who are involved in systems and synthetic biology research to discuss the history, progress and recent breakthroughs in these fields. NRL conference planners also hoped that the event would provide an intimate atmosphere to promote the exchange of ideas and address current limitations and potential end user needs. The two-day program included presentations by leading authorities and innovators and represented the diversity of ideas, approaches and microbial systems used in both of these fields. At its conclusion, the conference had successfully provided a forum for approximately 150 invited multidisciplinary scientists, sponsors, policy makers, industrialists and technical society leaders to discuss the current state, challenges and future of microbial systems and synthetic biology research.

The NRL scientific committee members for this first annual conference were Dr. Gary J. Vora, Dr. Banahalli Ratna and Dr. Bhakta Rath. As anticipated, a well-planned assemblage of key speakers and invited attendees has resulted in a number of planned research collaborations and coordinations between several academic, government, and industrial institutions, said Rath.