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AIxB Selected for 2021-2022 Creativity Hubs Award

The award will support an interdisciplinary team from the 2021-2022 competitive funding round working to build a collaborative ecosystem for innovation in Artificial Intelligence and the Biological Sciences.

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) is pleased to announce AIxB: Building a collaborative ecosystem for innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Biological Sciences as the winner of this year’s Creativity Hubs award. Now in its fifth year, the program provides seed funding for researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill to explore new, convergent science. With the potential to revolutionize AI for biosciences, AIxB takes a fresh look at AI technologies through the lens of biology to develop more inspired, interpretable and innovative AI while advancing biological science in a virtuous cycle of discovery.

The past two decades have seen dramatic transformations in the scope and ability of biologists to use big data to discover answers to long-standing questions about how complex organisms survive and adapt over their lifespan. Led by Principal Investigator Corbin Jones, professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, the AIxB team will pilot solutions using a biological example that reflects the larger problem: cracking the yeast histone code.

AIxB creates a collision space for convergent science, bringing together advances in knowledge graphs and explainable AI and biology. Together, the team will explore how the combinatorial histone code controls gene expression and thus cell functions to result in the rich biodiversity we can see every day, all without changing DNA sequence. This research has the potential to interpret the complexity of the histone code, in effect reducing experimental time and eventually informing therapies for treatable DNA-based diseases.

“Reinvigorating the symbiosis between biology and AI will pay dividends for decades. Success in our test case—cracking the chromatin code—will redefine our understanding of how information in the cell is stored, accessed and used,” said Jones, who is also a professor of genetics at the UNC School of Medicine.

Title image for AIxB: Building a collaborative ecosystem for innovation in Artificial Intelligence and the Biological Sciences.

Team: Corbin Jones, College of Arts & Sciences (PI); Stan Ahalt, Chris Bizon, and Marian Mersmann, RENCI (Co-Investigators); Brian Strahl and Piotr Mieczkowski, School of Medicine (Co-Investigators); Bob Duronio, College of Arts & Sciences (Co-Investigator); Alex Tropsha and Samantha Pattenden, Eshelman School of Pharmacy (Co-Investigators); Jeremy Simon, School of Medicine (Advisor)

The Creativity Hubs funding program was developed by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to assemble teams of researchers from diverse disciplines who join together to tackle major societal challenges and leverage additional support from external sponsors.

“The Creativity Hubs is the signature intramural program of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and has yielded amazing results,” said Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen. “I can attest to this award’s ability to stimulate exciting new research and promote collaboration and research growth at Carolina. I am truly looking forward to following this team’s progress as they innovate in data science to propel new biological discovery through biologically-inspired AI in the yeast model system with promise of extension to other model systems and eventually to humans.”

To date, winning Creativity Hubs projects have stimulated exciting results and tens of millions in extramural funding. Through this award, the AIxB team is eligible for $500,000 in continued funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research to execute its project over the next two years.

Creativity Hubs awardees are guaranteed proposal development assistance from the Office of Research Development to pursue large-scale, follow-on awards that build from the program’s funding. The office also works with finalist teams not selected to further develop their projects and connect them to other funding opportunities.