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NHGRI’s Schloss: Sitting on a Sequencing Treasure Trove

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There are millions of reasons to get to know Jeff Schloss. As head of sequencing technology grants for NHGRI, he’ll be in charge of awarding up to $14 million next year for new technologies aimed at drastically reducing sequencing costs.

Schloss, 52, whose background is in cellular and molecular biology, had been a faculty member at the University of Kentucky for six or seven years when he was lured to what would become the NHGRI in 1992. He started out helping the large centers “that were constructing physical maps and genetic maps for human and other organisms,” he says, and also worked on “the transition from the mapping centers to the sequencing centers.” After the sequencing centers launched, he shifted course to work on the technology development side and manage a grants portfolio.

It’s a great vantage point to keep up on cutting-edge research. One of his main priorities is to meet people who are interested in applying to NHGRI for funding and figuring out whether their research goals are a match for the institute. “If it doesn’t [fit], we can usually help them find somewhere else at the NIH where it does,” he says.

For those who are a match for NHGRI, Schloss works with them to submit an application and then shepherds that along — helping them understand reviewer feedback or working toward an award.

He also develops new program ideas for grants. To stay on top of the industry in addition to his regular contact with researchers, Schloss acts as NHGRI’s representative to the NIH bioengineering consortium and as an NIH representative to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a trans-agency group including DOE, DOD, and NSF. Neither group is specific to genomics, of course, but Schloss can glean insight to possible genomics advances from crossover technologies or concepts — sequencing through nanopores is one example of that, he says.

His latest two RFAs, which are to be announced this fall, came out of a July 2002 workshop on new sequencing technologies that was part of the planning process for NHGRI’s latest five-year plan. “The premise is we can get a few more factors of two out of the current sequencing [techniques] — and that’s about it,” he says. “We’re trying to develop completely new generations of technology.”

To that end, one RFA aims for roughly three orders of magnitude improvement — getting a genome sequence down to roughly $100,000 by 2008 — and the other for more drastic improvement: five orders of magnitude, or the $1,000 genome, anticipated to be showing real results in a decade.

Schloss expects the first awards for both de novo sequencing and resequencing research to be given out in fiscal 2004. According to the RFA, four to six awards are planned for the $100,000 genome (a grand total of $16 million over three years) and three to five awards for the $1,000 genome (another $16 million through 2006). The awards are expected to be capped at $2.5 million per year. Sequencing research for new technologies has appeared promising lately, Schloss says, “and that’s a trend we’d like to see developed.”

 

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