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Hawkins Says Joint Genome Institute Gearing up for Proteomics

McLEAN, Va., April 4 - The future of the Joint Genome Institute of the Department of Energy lies in proteomics, not genomics, Trevor Hawkins, the JGI's director, said Wednesday. 

"We're developing a large effort in proteomics," Hawkins told GenomeWeb in an interview during the first meeting of the Human Proteome Organization. "Sequencing is our core strength but not our future."

Hawkins said the JGI, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., would initially focus on sequencing microbial genomes and use the genomic data to develop a variety of experimental tools for proteomics studies, including protein and DNA microarrays, yeast two-hybrid technology for studying protein-protein interactions, and NMR and x-ray crystallography to study protein structure. 

JGI will study microbes because proteomics tools "are a lot easier to develop using organisms with 2500 genes," he said, and also because the microbes are related to DOE studies of carbon sequestration and biological remediation. 

The proteomics tools will also be used to study human susceptibility to radioactive materials, Hawkins said. 

The DOE is situated to integrate different technologies because of its strength in sequencing and access to powerful experimental facilities such as the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as NMR and supercomputing facilities at other national laboratories, he said. 

Funding for the proteomics effort at JGI, which began in October, totals $12 million for this year, but Hawkins admitted that the department faces budget cuts for next year. "I met all my goals [at the JGI] ahead of schedule last year, but still got a 5 percent cut," he said.

The proposed cut contrasts sharply with the proposed 13 percent increase in funding for the NIH.

Commenting on the appropriations process, Hawkins remarked that agencies have to be careful not to step on each others' toes while vying for a finite amount of research funding. "Understanding each others' mission is very important," he said. Nevertheless, Hawkins added that "DOE can bring [genomics and proteomics] together in a way no other agency can."

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