Grainger Bioinformatics Center

Three people work on digitizing herbarium specimens. The person in the front photographs a sheet with a plant specimen under bright lights, and the image appears on a computer monitor.

Using big data to tackle big questions about life on Earth.

With nearly 40 million items in our collections at the Field, we have a wealth of information about the natural world—from how Earth formed to how plants and animals are evolving today. But harnessing all that data can be a daunting and time-consuming task.

This is where the Grainger Bioinformatics Center comes in. Through this collaborative effort, we provide the computing power and data analysis to answer questions that seemed impossible in the past. Using computer science methods like DNA and genome analyses, pattern recognition, and machine learning to tap into collections data, we can unlock information that’s hidden in plain sight.

Evolutionary biologists are studying lichen genomes to understand how these organisms—symbionts of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria—evolved over time.

Felix Grewe

The Java Sea Shipwreck collection includes thousands of ceramic pieces as well as elephant ivory. By sequencing elephant genomes, we can help trace the ancient ship’s route.

Pacific Sea Resources

Areas of focus

The Bioinformatics Center provides funding for Field scientists working on genomics and biodiversity informatics projects across research areas. It also gives postdocs, students, interns, and volunteers access to new research opportunities. 

From sequencing DNA and identifying evolutionary relationships to sharing digitized specimen data, we can build a more complete picture of life—past, present, and future.

Recent projects include: 

  • Analyzing plaque from ancient humans’ teeth to learn about their diets  
  • Measuring the curves of bird eggs to understand the effects of egg shape on bird evolution 
  • Studying the DNA of rats in Chicago to estimate population sizes and locations 
  • Mapping plant and animal species in the Amazon to support the conservation and protection of this biodiverse region.

Felix Grewe and Rick Ree are the directors of the Bioinformatics Center.