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Motivation for the MOAC DTC


Research in the Life Sciences has changed radically within the last decade following the sequencing of the human and other important genomes. The availability of such abundant genomic data, together with the emerging microarray and proteomic data that stem from these resources, provides new and exciting opportunities to unravel complex biological phenomena in many different systems. Life Sciences departments in the UK are adapting to capitalise on these genomic, proteomic (and now metabolomic) opportunities but it is already abundantly clear that the changing nature of Life Sciences research has highlighted major gaps in our abilities to acquire, assimilate, and above all interpret these forms of biological/molecular data. The sheer quantity and complexity of the data are formidable: the Genbank database currently holds over 20,000,000,000 bases of sequence data and transcriptomic/proteomic data are emerging at an exponential rate. Equally, there is a growing awareness of a need for instrumentation technology that can analyze in detail the structures and functions of the key macromolecules and macromolecular assemblies that are now being pinpointed from these genomic/proteomic studies. The overall aim of the MOAC initiative is to establish a Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) that will provide state of the art training in the interdisciplinary skills needed to underpin Life Sciences research in the future.

[DIAGRAM] Scheme 1 This illustrates (from left to right) the varying scales of complexity of the biological area under consideration, the scientific areas encompassed, the technical approaches employed to study these areas and the theoretical (mathematical and computational) approaches that will be harnessed to feed off the experimental data and provide new, more quantitative insights into these core areas of biological sciences.

The DTC PhD graduates will be intimately familiar with advanced mathematical and computational techniques and their use in data analysis, molecular modelling and experimental design. The graduates will also have a feel for the instrumentation technologies used for molecular analysis. These technologies will be applied to study molecular organization and assembly from the cellular down to the macromolecular level. At the same time, many of the results from these studies will be applicable to studies in other areas of biology. The core elements of MOAC are:

  • training in the mathematical modelling of the underlying biological systems,  and in the mathematical and statistical techniques required to understand the complex data sets now emerging from genomic and post-genomic technologies;
  • acquisition of skills in advanced computational techniques that will provide a platform for data collection, analysis and ultimately experimental design;
  • training in the physical sciences/biophysical techniques that are required to analyse the structure and function of biomacromolecules, and to determine how they interact in vitro and in vivo. Training in instrumentation design and development will also be provided

The MOAC community at Warwick

MOAC's core activity will be the training of multi-disciplinary doctoral research workers in the environment of the multi-disciplinary research activity at the University. The key activities of MOAC to facilitate the life of the multi-disciplinary research community will be weekly seminars and the annual conference/retreat for all MOAC members.

The training programme

In order to enable the student members of MOAC to function effectively at the life sciences interface they will begin their PhD programme with a Generic Training Programme (see Scheme 2) aiming to give them the vocabulary and understanding of biological systems as well as core biophysics, biomathematics and computing. The generic training programme will be completed by the middle of year 1. The rest of year 1 will involve three 8 week mini-research projects in different disciplines (one experimental biology, one experimental physical sciences, and one mathematical/computational). The year 1 programme will lead to a Master of Science qualification. The next three years of the MOAC programme will involve students undertaking a full PhD research project co-supervised by members of different departments. During this time each student will follow a Personal Advanced Training Programme that will include internal and external courses to be attended, reading programmes etc. Students will also attend and help to run the weekly MOAC seminar programme.

Students from different backgrounds will find different aspects of the course most challenging. Where required, such as for students from non-mathematical backgrounds needing an introduction to basic mathematical skills, the student cohort may be divided into two groups with specially tailored teaching material and assessed work. Students are also strongly encouraged to teach each other as this also trains them in the skills required to undertake inter-disciplinary research.

Scheme 2 Generic assessed training programme; See also the MSc Modules.