Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained information erroneously given by Graham Scott, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine's
BOSTON, Oct. 3 - Now that the human-genome project is wrapping up, the future of the massive government-funding sequencing centers--the Whiteheads and Baylors of the world--seems to be falling under a shadow.
Without that billion-dollar juggernaut, what will be their reason for living? How will they be able to justify the shiny new sequencing machines, the top-flight bioinformaticists, all those expensive reagents? Who will save them from turning into sequencers-for-hire--into genomic hacks?
Chickens, chimpanzees, and world-class medical specialists, say representatives from two of the country's major public genome-sequencing centers.
At a roundtable organized by Genome Technology magazine at TIGR's GSAC meeting here today,
"I rail against the idea of a 'post-genomic era,'" said Mardis, who is the director of technology development at the
The projects that will demand her talents: new sequencing efforts like the honeybee, the chimp, and the cow; expanding beyond pure-play DNA sequencing; and launching new clinical programs that make use of these institutions' close ties with top-flight doctors.
Mardis said that Wash U's machines will be kept busy with DNA from the chimp and the chicken, the lab's newest project. "It's a major branch in the evolutionary tree--and it's darn tasty, too," she quipped.
On the Baylor side, more than 80 percent of the school's capacity is devoted to human and rat work. That will soon shift--the genome center is already booked up for the next three years with efforts to sequence the honeybee, the sea urchin, and a solo project to conquer Drosophila obscura, the famous fruitfly's lesser-known cousin.
Besides just taking on new critters, these centers will also tackle new types of projects, broadening their efforts and expanding into different kinds of genetic science. Baylor is working with
And since both genome centers are based at major medical schools, each will probably find itself much more involved in clinical research.
"We're both incredibly fortunate to be at medical schools replete with top-notch clinicians, people who are focused on understanding disease and accumulating samples," said Mardis. "It's a confluence: We have the reference sequence, the clinicians have lots of patients samples and want to set up intelligent ways to understand these diseases."
"Genome centers are a
These kinds of research--getting more closely involved in medical work, understanding new organisms, moving from pure sequencing to annotation and expression--will permit the kind of broad-minded human biology that the genome project was always intended to generate, the two sequencers agreed. And, they said, it should also finally bring in the era we've all been waiting for: when data on DNA turns into practical knowledge.
"It's the epitome of why we sequenced the human genome," said Mardis.