From its very inception, Janelia envisioned taking risks and doing science differently. In addition to supporting the individual projects of our lab heads, one of our key founding principles is that a significant portion of our resources should be devoted to large trans-disciplinary and collaborative projects that bring together both internal and visiting scientists to carry out work unlikely to succeed elsewhere.
In our 2004 planning workshops, before the campus was built, we envisioned these efforts as “1,000 person-year” projects – projects whose completion would require a team of up to 100 individuals working for up to ten years. We believed that such projects should grow organically from smaller pilot projects within Janelia labs or from the work of our visiting scientists. The idea was that Janelia could support two or three large projects at any one time, in addition to smaller collaborative projects (which might serve as incubators for larger efforts) directed by individuals or small groups of lab heads. In 2008, the Janelia Project Teams concept came to life. Within a few months, the first team projects were focused on the neuroanatomy, function, and behavior of the fruit fly. Think large-scale neuroscience or cell biology, with a genome science flavor.
We currently have five ongoing Large projects and a staff of ~60 people, with studies building on the initial fly projects to: apply similar tools to the mouse brain (MouseLight); develop better genetically encoded neural activity indicators and effectors (GENIE); study molecular interactions in single cells (TIC); and characterize gene expression in functionally-distinct cell types (NeuroSeq).
These large, long-term projects reflect Janelia’s powerful promise and impact. Such projects – which have proven to be remarkably difficult in traditional academic settings – embody Janelia’s alternative approach to research, by breaking down technical barriers and fostering focused, skillful collaboration.