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COVID-19 Related Research at Berkeley Lab

Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU)

Scientists around the world are joining together to study the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 and to expedite the development of possible vaccines and treatments to prevent its infectious disease, named COVID-19. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), some unique capabilities and facilities are being called into action quickly to assist in the national COVID-19 response.

“Many in the Berkeley Lab community are eager to contribute; this is what makes the Lab such a great place to work,” said Lab Director Mike Witherell. “Our goal is to identify areas in which we can use our unique resources to make the greatest impact on time-sensitive COVID-19 research. We are being careful to take on critical research we can do within the constraints imposed by the status of our site, and while ensuring the health and safety of staff and community.”

Currently, the only research-related projects underway at Berkeley Lab during its “safe and stable standby” status are those defined as “critical work.” This includes work that ensures the long-term integrity of equipment and samples. In addition, these COVID-19 related research efforts are underway:

The Advanced Light Source (ALS) and Molecular Foundry are conducting approved essential research with external collaborating researchers that may help in developing therapeutics to combat COVID-19. This week, the ALS will begin operating a limited number of scientific instruments known as beamlines for three days a week to accommodate several academic and industry user groups, in a remote access mode. These groups are pursuing structural biology work on non-infectious protein components of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A Stanford-based group is working with Molecular Foundry staff to synthesize peptidomimetic polymers, or peptoids. These materials have the potential to serve as packages for antiviral agents, or as antiviral agents themselves, against COVID-19.

The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) — which can be accessed remotely — have remained operational because of their roles in supporting the computing and data science research at all the DOE laboratories. NERSC is contributing resources to the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. ESnet is providing scientists robust, high-bandwidth access to the power of DOE supercomputer centers like NERSC and enabling research efforts into the COVID-19 pandemic. NERSC has set up dedicated queues running COVID-19-related research projects on Cori, a Cray XC40 supercomputer able to perform nearly 30 quadrillion calculations per second. Go here for more details.

The Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU) will be operating on a limited basis to temporarily support a company in scaling up a coronavirus antiviral — work that was begun prior to the Lab stand down.

Experts in high-throughput automation from the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) have been bringing their expertise to a broad effort at UC Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute to develop a robotic testing lab.

The Agile BioFoundry draws upon engineering biology capabilities from seven partner Department of Energy National Laboratories and has expertise in all aspects of engineering and optimizing metabolic pathways in a range of organisms. These capabilities can be applied to the development of new therapeutics and diagnostics in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll be looking for more opportunities to contribute to the national COVID-19 response in the weeks and months ahead,” Witherell said.

The ALS, Molecular Foundry, JGI, NERSC, and ESnet are DOE Office of Science User Facilities located at Berkeley Lab.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.