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GovernmentAfter Review, DOE’s GTL Shifts Plans, Scraps Grant request

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The Department of Energy’s Office of Science has restructured the facilities plan for its Genomics: Genomes to Life program in response to a review by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

Rather than creating four separate facilities devoted specifically to protein production, biomolecular imaging, proteomics, and systems biology, as it had earlier planned, GTL now envisions “one or two vertically integrated centers with a focus on bioenergy research,” according to DOE. However, the agency says it could consider building centers for systems biology research into carbon sequestration and bioremediation in future years.

Additionally, DOE canceled its funding opportunity announcement for a planned GTL facility for the production and characterization of proteins and molecular tags, issued in early January. DOE says it plans to issue a new solicitation in the coming months for one or more centers for bioenergy research, and that such research has become an increasing priority for GTL.

The changes follow on the heels of a non-binding review by NRC that recommended GTL uproot its R&D plan of creating the four technology-specific centers in favor of building four vertically integrated facilities in which the four original disciplines would look for applications for tasks already identified as GTL targets.

“We’re recommending a biology-oriented, programmatic approach rather than just building large-scale facilities around innovative technologies,” says Charles Cantor, chief science officer at Sequenom and one of 12 co-authors of the NRC report. “It’s safe to assume that the investment in technologies probably doesn’t have to be as large as DOE had previously projected.”

According to the NRC report, it would’ve taken 24 years for DOE’s technology-specific facilities to be built and “to reach full capabilities.” NRC suggested instead that DOE center the facilities around energy alternatives, legacy waste solutions, and carbon sequestration.

David Kingsbury of the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and a report co-author says the reconfiguration would help keep the program dynamic and timely. “There is an opportunity for a broader number of vendors to be engaged early on,” he says. “From sequencing to protein production to imagery and mass spectrometry, there is a lot of potential. DOE will be making an investment and making sure they stay state-of-the-art.”

— Elizabeth Kiem and Justin Petrone

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