Data center construction will support advances in genome sequencing

An important component of BioMed 21, the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis is a gene-sequencing powerhouse and one of the four such centers in the world. It specializes in large-scale, high-throughput genome sequencing, supplying data that helps researchers at the School of Medicine identify the genetic factors that contribute to disease.

To meet the massive computing needs of the Genome Sequencing Center (GSC), a 16,000 square-foot data center is being constructed on Newstead Avenue across the street from the center’s current facility on the medical campus. The data center will support 120 racks of highly dense data storage and computing solutions required by next-generation DNA sequencing technology.

“Sequencing technology becomes faster with each generation of equipment,” says Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of the GSC. “And as we adopt the next generation of DNA sequencers, we will increase the amount of data we generate by several thousand times per day. Think how fast your digital camera’s storage card would fill up if you took thousands more pictures every day. The new data center will provide the ‘extra space’ and more efficient data processing required by advanced sequencing technologies, and it will meet our computing needs for the next several years.”

Scientists of the GSC significantly contributed to the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003. Now researchers are making use of this reference sequence of the human genome to answer questions about individual human genetic variation and its role in disease onset, progression and prognosis. The GSC was recently awarded a $156 million grant to use DNA sequencing to unlock the secrets of cancer and other human diseases and to sequence the genomes of non-human primates and microbes.

At present, the GSC has projects devoted to sequencing whole genomes of organisms as varied as corn, roundworm, fruit fly, frog and chimpanzee, among many others. The researchers are also analyzing the genomes of both infectious bacteria and of “friendly” bacteria that normally line the intestines and help metabolize food. Overall, these genomes have the potential to accelerate progress in understanding genome structure, organization and function as well as providing genomic information about disease-causing organisms and organisms that serve as models of human diseases.

The center has begun a major effort to gather genetic data faster and less expensively than before. “When we first started genome sequencing in 1990, it took eight years and more than $50 million to produce the sequence of a simple organism,” Wilson says. “Now technology will allow us to sequence a similarly sized genome in two or three days at a cost of about $5,000. We are continually working to produce sequences faster, better and less expensively and to lead the innovation and application of DNA sequencing technology.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.