Biosciences Division

Research and Development Programs

Biochemical engineering activities focus on bioprocessing, whereby a material is converted into another using biological agents (e.g., living microbes or enzymes). This field combines chemical engineering, microbiology, and biochemistry. Areas of research include production of fuels and chemicals, bioprocessing of fossil fuels, and biotreatment and remediation.

Computational biology activities address fundamental questions in the life sciences and provide information and analytical resources to the wider biological research community by conducting R&D at the intersection of the life sciences, mathematics, information technology, and computational sciences. Interests focus on DNA sequence analysis, gene finding, regulatory regions, and comparative analyses; systems analysis of mRNA and protein expression patterns; databases; visualization; protein structure prediction; protein complexes; pathway and network analysis; modeling and simulation; and high-performance computing.

The DOE BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) focuses on the fundamental understanding and elimination of biomass recalcitrance—the resistance of cellulosic biomass to enzymatic breakdown into sugars. BESC approaches the problem of biomass recalcitrance from two directions by closely linking (1) plant research to make cell walls easier to deconstruct and (2) microbial research to develop multitalented biocatalysts tailor made to produce biofuels from this modified plant material in a single step. BESC partners with 15 public and private entities (

The Plant-Microbe Interfaces Science Focus Area seeks to understand the dynamic interface existing between plants, microbes, and their environment. A specific focus is on defining the genetic bases of molecular communication between Populus and its microbial consortia (

Environmental Microbiology

  • Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies (ENIGMA) is a multiscale systems approach to microbial bioremediation, carbon sequestration, and energy production. ENIGMA is carried out under Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory leadership. ENIGMA work at ORNL provides (1) environmental data and samples that determine stressors to be studied, (2) environments for growing organisms to be tested, (3) simulations of stressed environments, and (4) verification of conceptual models to determine how stress regulatory pathways control the biogeochemistry of contaminated sites.
  • The Mercury Science Focus Area centers on biogeochemical transformations governing mercury speciation at the sediment-water interface and, particularly, the processes controlling the production of methyl mercury. This multiscale and multi-institutional program integrates geochemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, and molecular simulations to understand mercury behavior in the field and is led by researchers in the Environmental Sciences Division (ESD) (
  • The Integrative Field-Scale Subsurface Research Challenge is also led by ESD researchers and advances the understanding and predictive capability of coupled hydrological, geochemical, and microbiological processes that control in situ transport, remediation, and natural attenuation of subsurface metals, radionuclides, and co-contaminants across multiple scales—from the molecular to watershed (

Biological and Nanoscale Systems Group focuses on multiscale characterization, integration, and adaptation of natural and synthetic microbial systems. Technology development includes biological imaging, biocompatible micro- and nanofabrication techniques, and high-throughput screening tools to locate and quantify membrane proteins, identify interacting proteins, and confirm biochemical networks (

Center for Structural Molecular Biology (CSMB) combines ORNL strengths in neutron sciences, mass spectrometry, and computational biology and makes them available to a broad user community in the biological sciences (

Center for Molecular Biophysics performs research at the interface of biological, environmental, physical, computational, and neutron sciences with the goal of understanding the function of biologically relevant molecular systems by employing high-performance computer simulations in combination with biophysical experiments (

Joint Institute for Biological Sciences is a joint effort by the University of Tennessee (UT) and ORNL to develop collaborative R&D projects and offer education, training, and on-the-job experience for undergraduates and graduates and provide continuing education for scientists and others.

UT/ORNL Graduate School of Genome Science and Technology takes advantage of the unique opportunity that UT and ORNL have for interaction and collaboration. Students are trained in emerging areas of genome science, with emphasis on mammalian genetics, structural biology, proteomics, computational biology and bioinformatics, and bioanalytical technologies (

Postdoctoral Programs

The division participates in the Eugene P. Wigner Fellowship Program ( and the ORNL Postdoctoral Research Associates Program ( Postdoctoral appointees are integral members of R&D teams, gain exposure to current science and technology issues, share innovative ideas and techniques, make significant contributions to ORNL programs, and enhance their own professional development.