The Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) has been awarded a three-year grant to continue sequencing the genetic codes of the chicken, the chimpanzee and the mouse and will start to sequence several other organisms.
First-year funding for the GSC through the new grant program will be $49 million. The estimated three-year funding will be at least $130 million.
The grant is one of five awarded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to U.S. sequencing centers. The program, called the Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network, will carry out a new generation of large-scale projects designed to maximize the promise of the Human Genome Project and dramatically expand the understanding of human health and diseases.
“This grant lets us continue to do very exciting and relevant biology,” said Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of the GSC and professor of genetics. “The data we’ll be producing as a part of this new effort will allow us to ask very fundamental questions about human health and disease.
“It will be a key part of moving into the next phase of genomics and medicine: The use of the information and technology from the Human Genome Project to diagnose, treat and prevent illness.”
The GSC has produced several unique accomplishments, including the complete sequence of the first human chromosome — chromosome 22 — and several other chromosomes (2, 4, 7 and Y). The center also produced the first genome of a multicellular organism, the microscopic worm C. elegans, as well as the first plant, the flowering mustard Arabidopsis thaliana.
Over the next three years, the five centers in the NHGRI program will mount a major new effort to gather genetic data on several species in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of producing the human genome.
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“In large part, our new funding can be seen as a reward for the advances in efficiency we’ve made in previous years,”Wilson said. “It took several hundred million dollars to map and sequence the human genome. Because of efficiency improvements in many areas since the Human Genome Project began, it will take less than $50 million to sequence each genome that we’ll work on as a part of NHGRI’s new network.”
In addition to its work on the chicken, mouse and chimpanzee genomes, the GSC will spend the upcoming year sequencing the genetic code of a flatworm, a few species of fruit flies and the South American gray short-tailed opossum.
Additional organisms may be added toward the end of the first year, according to Wilson. NHGRI funding for the program will last three years, with annual renewal grants determined on a competitive basis.
“Genome sequences are the foundation of good biology — to ask the important questions of biology, you need to have high quality genome sequences,” Wilson said. “This new program lets us continue supplying and using those sequences.”
Besides the human, other genomes that are already sequenced include the rat, baker’s yeast, two fruit flies and the bacterium E. coli.
Comparing different organisms’ genomes helps researchers zero in on areas in the genetic code where the most functionally important genes are located. In addition, the insights gained from comparing an organism’s genome to the human genome often can be crucial when using that organism to model a human disease.
“Given the power of such comparisons, there is a growing hunger among biologists and medical researchers for free and publicly available sequence data on a wide variety of organisms,” said NHGRI Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Our sequencing centers will feed that hunger. And the dramatic decrease in the costs of genome sequencing, spurred on by the Human Genome Project, makes production of this data a bargain by any estimate.”