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UPDATE: NIH Awards $58M to Celera, Baylor to Sequence Rat Genome

This article has been updated from a previous version.

NEW YORK, Feb 28 - Celera and Baylor College of Medicine have been awarded a two-year $58 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to sequence the laboratory rat, the NIH said Wednesday. 

Celera will receive $21.3 million in funding, and Baylor will receive $36.7 million over the two years, said Baylor Human Genome Research Center Director Richard Gibbs. These funds will complement additional monies that Baylor received for its portion of the mouse genome, but allocated to the rat, Gibbs said.

Celera and Baylor will make the data publicly available on a weekly basis through the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Genome Therapeutics, The Institute for Genomic Research, and the University of British Columbia will also participate in the sequencing efforts, which aim for four-fold draft sequence coverage of the rat genome in the next two years. 

Some scientists have suggested that the next genome sequence be a primate rather than a rodent, given that the mouse genome is expected to be completed by the spring. But Gibbs defended the rat sequence project as critical to science.

"The rat is really the premier experimental organism for human pharmacolological or disease-related studies," said Gibbs. "Although the mouse is good for genetic studies, the real work is being  done on the rat."

With the rat, said Susan Old, a scientist in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Rat Genome Working Group, "[t]he genome provides the common language to move from the biology to the clinical disease." 

Nevertheless, Gibbs said the rat is only one of many organisms whose genome needs to be sequenced as soon as possible to provide data for science and medicine. "There's a sense of urgency about this kind of work," he said

The joint Celera-Baylor project is funded through a joint grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute and the NHLBI . The two groups issued a call for proposals for a two-year rat genome sequencing project in July 2000, specifying that $32 million would be available for the first year of the project, and up to $26 million for the second year.

Baylor decided to partner up with Celera in its proposal because Celera is good at generating raw sequence data  and has an outstanding group of scientists, Gibbs said.

Several groups submitted proposals, but Celera and Baylor were chosen, because the reviewers "thought that their proposal was outstanding," Old said. 

The sequencing will begin in the next week or two, and the groups will employ a combination of BAC-based sequencing and whole genome shotgun methods, "learning by what we did in the human," Old said. 

This project builds upon the Rat Genome Program launched by the NIH in 1995 and the Rat EST program started in 1997. Recently, Baylor began BAC-based and whole genome shotgun sequencing of the rat. Whole genome shotgun data is now available on Baylor's website,  along with other BAC-based sequence. 

Baylor currently has a couple of million sequence reads on the Rat, but the whole project expects to generate 30 million reads before the draft sequence is completed, Gibbs said. The rat genome, like the human genome, has been estimated to contain 3 billion base pairs.

Celera expects to use the rat genome to compare to other model organisms, including the mouse, Drosophila , and human. 

NIH scientists also want to make these comparative genomics capabilities available to researchers. 

"Our hope is that with the human being completed and the mouse well on its way, that it will be easy to jump between the two species and the rat," said Old.

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