The International HapMap Project is officially underway. A three-year, $100 million global effort to catalog haplotypes in the human genome, the project is hailed by supporters as a brilliant investment of research dollars for the worthy cause of advancing medicine, and by detractors as yet another way to throw away money on an unproven idea.
Richard Gibbs, head of the Baylor Genome Sequencing Center, which accepted a HapMap grant with partner Par-Allele, takes it all in stride. “It hasn’t been proven that this is a panacea,” he acknowledges. “[But] it’s very shortsighted to say, ‘Oh, I think this is not going to solve all the problems, and therefore it’s not worth doing.’”
Gibbs got involved with the project after hearing about Par-Allele’s SNP-finding technology, which seals a ring of DNA around a target to identify 1,500 polymorphisms at a time and spits out results in a chip readout. “When you’ve been sniffing around this stuff for a long time,” says Gibbs, who’s been looking for a good genotyping method, “you get a sense of what’s robust.” He and ParAllele teamed up and applied for one of the HapMap grants — though admittedly, the $4 million they’ll get over two years for the work is just a tenth of the Baylor genome center’s annual budget.
It’s still worth it, according to Gibbs: “This is deep and thrillingly interesting science.”