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Sequencing TIGR Joins Forces to Build New Powerhouse: a Venter Center

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The Institute for Genomic Research, the Center for the Advancement of Genomics, and the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives announced plans to build a new high-throughput genome-sequencing center whose goal is to sequence a human genome in a fraction of the time it currently takes.

The new Venter center, which doesn’t yet have a name, will also set out to nurture new genomic technology — such as the gene-analysis tool being developed by US Genomics — that might help bring down the cost of analyzing an entire human genome to as little as $2,000.

The nonprofits will retrofit an existing molecular-biology facility in Rockville, Md., to accommodate an amassment of automated DNA-sequencing tools, supercomputers, networking platforms, and data-storage units the new sequencing center will need, according to Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for IBEA and TCAG.

Craig Venter has narrowed his choice to a pair of 40,000-square-foot facilities near TIGR in Rockville and hopes to pick one in time to have it operational before the end of the year. The new center, which will be mostly automated, will keep a staff of about 100 people, and will include gene-sequencing technologies from Applied Biosystems or Amersham Biosciences, Kowalski adds. Data harvested by his new nonprofit will be freely available to all researchers.

The decision by the former Celera head to focus so intently on gene sequencing appears to buck the current trend of pulling back funding for such projects. The center plans to spend at least $20 million a year to conduct genome-sequencing projects and to nourish promising new technology.

“Our goal is to build a new and unique sequencing facility that can deal with the large number of organisms to be sequenced, and can further analyze those genomes already completed,” Venter says of his center, which will be supported mainly by the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation.

One person who will likely feel an immediate effect is Claire Fraser, president and director of TIGR. She says the extra sequencing capacity of the new center will allow TIGR to expand its own research on “a wide array of projects” — a welcome sign for the institute’s genome scientists, who have been running out of sequencing capacity since the specter of bioterror put pressure on them to do more of that kind of analysis.

TIGR’s sequencing lab, which has around 40 projects currently underway, will continue its operations until the new joint sequencing facility comes on line, Fraser says. At that point, the current TIGR sequencing facility “will undergo a metamorphosis to add a state-of-the-art capability to genome closure.”

— Kirell Lakhman and Ken Howard

 

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