News Archive

Leading Department of Energy Genome Scientist to Direct Joint Marine Microbial Metagenomics Cyberinfrastructure Initiative

Published 05/02/2006

Dr. Paul Gilna Will Lead Moore Foundation-Funded Project Linking UC San Diego and Venter Institute

San Diego, CA, April 27, 2006 -- An experienced genomics science program administrator has been recruited to direct a $24.5-million effort to develop an innovative cyberinfrastructure that will allow scientists to organize and analyze a vast amount of data on the genomes and community ecologies of ocean-dwelling microbes.

Paul Gilna will become the executive director of the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis (CAMERA) project. He was appointed to the position by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). This project partners Calit2 with the Rockville, MD-based J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI), UCSD's Center for Earth Observations and Applications based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Gilna replaces interim director Peter Arzberger, director of Life Science Initiatives at UCSD.

Gilna is the former director of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and group leader of Genomic Science and Computational Biology in LANL's Bioscience Division.

"Paul Gilna brings deep experience in leadership and management of large, community-driven projects in the biosciences," said UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. "This project will be a cornerstone of UCSD's effort to build closer research relationships with the national labs at Los Alamos, Livermore, and Berkeley."

In his new role, Gilna will coordinate this complex project: He will oversee building the needed cyberinfrastructure, foster partnerships within the emerging metagenomics scientific community (which spans biology, oceanography, ecology, computing, and computational science), and work with all stakeholders, including project staff, key users of the infrastructure, and advisors to the project.

Said Calit2 director Larry Smarr, principal investigator on the CAMERA project, "Paul brings to CAMERA just the combination we need: relevant scientific expertise, collaborations with all sectors of the microbial genomics community, an impressive academic publication record in bioinformatics and molecular biology, and a broad understanding of computer architecture and design."

"Paul is an ideal person to lead the CAMERA project, given his strong leadership skills and unparalleled genomics and bioinformatics expertise," said J. Craig Venter, president, J. Craig Venter Institute. "I look forward to working with Paul in his new role in building the informatics tools to analyze and disseminate to the scientific community the data from our Sorcerer II Global Expedition and other environmental genomics sequencing work."

CAMERA was announced in January and is funded over seven years by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. David Kingsbury, chief program officer for science at the Moore Foundation., said, "We funded CAMERA to accelerate research in marine microbial ecology. Paul is ideal to lead this effort because of his deep commitment to the establishment and extension of community resources and strong background in the genomics community."

For the last five years, Gilna has been director of the JGI-Los Alamos. JGI is a $70-million-per-year collaboration that teams the expertise of five national laboratories (Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest) and the Stanford Human Genome Center to work at the frontiers of genome sequencing and related biology. In that role, Gilna worked to strengthen the partnership between JG-Los Alamos and the JGI production facility and headquarters in Walnut Creek, CA, and strategically re-positioned the LANL operation to focus on microbial genome sequence finishing, including a specialization in microbial pathogens.

Eddy Rubin, division director, Genomics Division, Genome Sciences Department, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, said, "While we're sorry to lose Paul's leadership of the JGI-Los Alamos, we expect greater benefit to the genomics community because of the new possibility of a JGI-Calit2 collaboration through him."

Before JGI, as program director for Computational Biology and Database Activity Programs at NSF, Gilna oversaw the transition of management of the Protein Data Bank from Brookhaven National Laboratory to the Rutgers/UCSD/San Diego Supercomputer Center consortium. Gilna was also co-PI of Los Alamos' GenBank project (now managed by NIH's National Library of Medicine), where he implemented direct data submissions and convinced journal editors from the scientific press to change their publication policies in support of such submission.

"Paul brings deep computational and biological experience to the CAMERA project. I cannot think of a more qualified executive director," said Terry Gaasterland, director of the UCSD Scripps Genome Center and member of the Divisional Council that advises Ramesh Rao, UCSD division director of Calit2. The Scripps Genome Center is working with Calit2 through UCSD's Center for Earth Observations and Applications, centered at the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography and directed by CAMERA co-PI John Orcutt.

Adds Phil Papadopoulos, SDSC's program director for Grid and Cluster Computing and CAMERA's chief cyberinfrastructure architect, "Paul's deep experience at Los Alamos will be essential in coupling the evolution of our CAMERA infrastructure development to the requirements of the metagenomics research community."

Gilna brings approximately 30 years experience in management of scientific projects and organizations with staff sizes up to 300 and annual budgets up to $70 million. True to the Calit2 multidisciplinary mantra, Gilna has worked with researchers in such diverse disciplines as cell biology, chemistry, computational and computer science, environmental science, genomic and proteomic science, measurement science, nanobiology, and space and theoretical physics. He has served as journal editor of DNA Sequence and Genomics, and has served as a grant reviewer for NSF, DOE, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Office of Naval Research. Gilna also has served as an advisor to the UCSD's National Biomedical Computation Resource, directed by Arzberger.

"The common thread of my career," said Gilna, "is working in large, complex projects--at the interface of computation and experimentation--that, in turn, enable and accelerate the research of a broad scientific community. In particular, I have a passion for leading projects where the ultimate measure of success is how well a particular community believes it is being served. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to work with the world's best in this community."

The CAMERA infrastructure is expected to enable a series of basic and applied research projects in fields not directly funded by the Moore grant.

"The infrastructure created by CAMERA holds great potential for human genomics and human health in general," said Susan Taylor, professor of chemistry, biochemistry, and pharmacology at UCSD's School of Medicine. "It will enable us to study microbes associated with infectious disease to identify possible microbial natural products for therapeutics. CAMERA is establishing the cutting-edge computing technology required to study genetic variability and link it to disease and specific proteins."

According to Daniel Drell, program manager, Life Sciences Division, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, U.S. Department of Energy, "This project involves all the right people to make the most of this opportunity to 'do it right' in terms of establishing an infrastructure and tool set for metagenomic data."

The CAMERA project now is in a "sprint" phase to establish public access to this important biological data later this year. Progress toward this goal was reported recently to the Moore Foundation. As the project goes forward, the CAMERA team plans to provide an extensive collection of software tools and extend this knowledge resource in response to the needs of an exceptionally broad, multidisciplinary scientific community that will rely on the data to advance its research.

Gilna begins his new role May 1.

About Calit2
The California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, a partnership between UC San Diego and UC Irvine, houses over 1,000 researchers organized around more than 50 projects on the future of telecommunications and information technology and how these technologies will transform a range of applications important to the economy and citizens' quality of life.