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Venter Center Begins Meta-Genomic Sequencing of Manhattan Air, Eyes Emerging Sequencing Platforms

HILTON HEAD, SC, Oct. 17 (GenomeWeb News) - Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute have finished collecting air samples in New York City and have begun sequencing them as part of a $2.5-million meta-genomics pilot study begun in March, an Institute official said today.


The official, Karin Remington, vice president for bioinformatics research, also said that the Institute would begin looking for ways in which next-generation DNA-sequencing technologies might play a role in this and similar projects. The Venter Institute is currently testing a 454 instrument for other kinds of research, she said.


Remington spoke with GenomeWeb News following her presentation at the first-annual Genomes, Medicine and the Environment conference, held here this week. She said preliminary observations showed that most of the organisms floating in the air around Manhattan, at least the air surrounding the SpinCon filters, are bacteria and fungi.


"Assuming all goes well, we want to have an analysis done and published ... within a few month," Remington said.


As GenomeWeb News reported in March, scientists at the Venter Institute plan to sequence all the microorganisms found in air samples taken from within and atop an undisclosed building in midtown Manhattan.


Called the Air Genome Project, the study is funded through an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It calls for Venter Institute researchers to capture indoor and outdoor New York City air through filters and sequence DNA found in the samples at the institute's Joint Technology Center.


Though the researchers have collected enough air samples to perform a preliminary analysis, Remington said they may return for additional samples. The systems been removed from their temporary high-rise homes, but, because they are portable, can be repositioned at any time, Remington added.


Once sequenced, the data will be made publicly available and the genome sequences will be released through the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The results may help design systems that detect potentially dangerous biological substances in the air, according to the institute.


Remington said that the Institute has already done "some" sequencing on the preliminary samples and has gained experience from conducting similar research from filter systems placed atop a Venter Institute building in Rockville, Md.


Remington said that "the whole idea" of this project is to identify and develop new technologies and assays that could make this kind of research more efficient and cost-effective. 454's sequencing technology, being sold by Roche, could be a potential collaborator because its technology is already being used by Venter Institute scientists for other projects. Asked if the Institute and 454 plan to pen a formal meta-genomics alliance, Remington said: "[It's] too far out to tell."


She said the Institute has a 454 instrument in one of its labs and that researchers have been testing 454 it "to see whether we can reproduce genomes for ourselves, and we've also been looking how 454 and the much-cheaper sequencing platforms [like it] can be used to fill gaps" in some other in-house projects.


GMEC is organized by the J. Craig Venter Institute. The conference had previously been called the Genome Sequence and Annotation Conference.

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