The National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) and Stanford University said today they will partner to improve the measurement techniques of the molecular products and processes developed through genomics and genetic engineering.

NIST and Stanford have signed a memorandum of understanding establishing the Joint Initiative for Metrology in Biology (JIMB), which is intended to unite academic, government, and industrial researchers in developing the definitions.

In addition, the partners said, the JIMB will allow the NIST and Stanford collaborators to commission research to solve measurement problems that impede research or therapy—in essence, training new scientists in biometrology—or conducting translational research to advance laboratory techniques into scalable bioproducts or services.

In one such instance, JIMB is supporting the research of Noah Spies, Ph.D., a scientist in NIST’s Genome-Scale Measurements Group and a visiting scholar at Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Spies is working to develop processes to improve the affordability and reliability of DNA sequencing,

JIMB is also supporting the research of Nick Melosh, Ph.D., a Stanford associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science. Dr. Melosh is studying the use of nanoscale straws to measure and study cellular material without breaking the cell, adding nonnatural material to the cell, or disrupting normal cell operations.

JIMB is designed to combine NIST’s expertise in metrology and its reputation with Stanford’s know-how in biology and relationships with industry. NIST and the university said all contributions, results, and tools produced through the initiative will be free and made available publicly.

“To realize biotechnology’s tremendous promise, we need to develop measurement platform—standards, methods and data—that support innovation within existing and entirely new industries,” Laurie Locascio, director of NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory, said in a statement.

NIST and Stanford have worked to develop and systematize biomeasurements over the past 3 years. Roughly a dozen NIST scientists have worked in or with various Stanford labs, with a base presence in the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering.

Last year, for example, Sarah Munro, Ph.D., also of NIST’s Genome-Scale Measurements Group partnered with Stanford bioengineer Drew Endy, Ph.D. to convene the inaugural gathering of the Synthetic Biology Standards Consortium (SBSC). More than 100 researchers from government, academia, and industry, inside and outside the U.S., gathered to discuss how to create safe, standardized biomolecular products by reprogramming the genetic code of simple cells to turn them into biofactories.

Other JIMB initiatives designed to foster commercial standards include the Genome in a Bottle (GIAB) Consortium, which aims to ensure the accurate reporting of human genome sequencing, and the External RNA Controls Consortium (ERCC). ERCC’s efforts are meant to underlie commercial efforts to use RNA in therapeutic and productive processes.

All JIMB consortia are free for industry partners to join, make use of, or contribute to, NIST and Stanford said.

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