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Germany to Fund Efforts to Develop DNA Methylation Technology

NEW YORK, May 16 - Germany will provide 5.3 million German marks ($2.4 million) in funding to help develop a technology designed to detect DNA methylation in high-throughput genome screening, Epigenomics, the company that will be leading the project, said Wednesday.

The project, which will span three years and is funded by Germany's Ministry of Education and Research, is intended to enable the company and its collaborators to efficiently pinpoint methylation sites on the genome, sites where the nucleotide cytosine has an attached CH3 or methyl group.   

"The most significant point to this project is that the German government has recognized DNA methylation as a concept in itself," said Mike Sinclair, a company spokesman. "It has taken several years for people to begin to understand the importance of DNA methylation. Now at last it is getting the same attention as SNPs."

Methylation sites on DNA indicate that this area of the genome is actively transcribing mRNA, and thus can be used as gene expression markers. By comparing methylation patterns for healthy and diseased tissues, a researcher may be able to isolate the methylation signature of disease and develop diagnostic tools similar to those that could be developed using SNPs. 

Epigenomics, which has 91 employees and offices in Berlin and Seattle, has already developed a biochip-based technology that can create a digitized readout of methylated and non-methylated sites for each tissue. But the company is still developing the technology for drug discovery and diagnostics applications.

"These funds will enable them to capitalize on the development of their technology and make the high throughput screening even better," Sinclair said.    

Epigenomics will receive half of the funds for the project while its collaborators, including Jorg Hoheisel from the German Cancer Research Center and Ronald Frank of the German Research Center for Biotechnology, will receive the remainder.

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