Researchers at DOE’s national laboratories work to understand how the virus responsible for COVID-19 functions in the body. This shows the surface of the virus binding to a cell’s membrane. Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Researchers at the Department of Energy (DOE)'s national laboratories work to understand how the virus responsible for COVID-19 functions in the body. This shows the surface of the virus binding to a cell’s membrane.
The COVID crisis is unlike any other event the nation and the world have faced in nearly a century. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science has not only invested in areas that support our laboratories and researchers, we lead the Department’s research and development response to COVID. This effort is ensuring that 17 national labs are working in tandem to support the nation. The ability of researchers across the country at national labs, at universities, and in industry to work together is crucial to fighting this pandemic.
The Office of Science swiftly took action by creating the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) and joining the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)-led COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. These are two initiatives that have allowed cooperative research and development across government agencies, national labs, universities, industry leaders, and international allies.
The National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory is a consortium of 17 national laboratories, all of which have core capabilities relevant to the threats posed by COVID-19. NVBL is taking advantage of DOE Office of Science user facilities to address key challenges in responding to the COVID-19 threat. These facilities include light and neutron sources, nanoscale science centers, sequencing and bio-characterization facilities, and high-performance computer facilities. The NVBL is working in six different areas:
- Addressing supply chain bottlenecks by harnessing extensive additive manufacturing capabilities
- Developing innovations in testing capabilities
- Identifying new targets for medical therapeutics
- Providing epidemiological and logistical support
- Determining the fate and transport of the virus in the environment, and
- Participating in the High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium.
But where the NVBL really shines is the extensive collaboration with researchers, both in academia and the private sector. The DOE user facilities are available to users in all sectors of the research community. In fact, the idea of a virtual and connected biotechnology laboratory has been an interest of the Office of Science for a while, and COVID-19 provided the perfect opportunity to test out this idea. This current success will enable future cooperation, even after work focused on the pandemic fades and we return to business as usual.
The Office of Science labs are also part of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. This consortium is spearheaded by OSTP and involves the nation’s top computing companies. Separate from NVBL, the HPC Consortium brings together supercomputing resources within the government and industry and makes them available to researchers who apply. So far, the Consortium has approved 91 projects, including ones from universities, companies, and other research and medical organizations.
Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory