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Encouraging Development

Through its Advanced Sequencing Technology awards, the US National Human Genome Research Institute helped enable the rather quick development of genome sequencing technology, Nature's Erika Check Hayden writes.

The program — which has also been known by the $100,000 and $1,000 genome program monikers — began in 2004 to push the field along as the Human Genome Project wrapped up and has given out some 97 awards to various researchers in academia and industry, including to researchers at most of the major sequencing companies, Check Hayden says.

The program, Check Hayden adds, will be giving out its last grants this year. "As technology enthusiasts look to future challenges, the coming milestone raises questions about how the roughly $230-million government program managed to achieve such success, and whether its winning formula can be applied elsewhere," she says.

A related editorial in Nature says that the program thrived because it set a clear, though challenging, goal, while sparking both competition and cooperation. It also fostered a range of ideas, including rather speculative ones, and was flexible in what it funded.

"Of course, just incorporating these six elements into a program does not guarantee success," the editorial says, adding that the field also built on ideas from researchers and entrepreneurs as well as funds from venture capitalists.

"And although the $1,000 goal is within striking distance, it has not yet enabled the depth of understanding needed to make full medical or biological use of the knowledge derived from ever more genomes," it adds. "Attacking that problem is the next challenge of genomics. But in part because of the $1,000 genome program, biologists are now in a position to address it."

Those issues, Check Hayden notes, "will require another great leap in genomic science."