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Bioinformatics Slated to Get Funding Increase from Larger NHGRI Budget

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WASHINGTON--A 20 percent spending increase for the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), approved as part of a $2 billion US National Institutes of Health funding increase in the 1999 federal budget package, will go largely to support advanced technological developments that will assist the Human Genome Project. Developing strength in bioinformatics and computational biology is one of eight main goals described in the project's new five-year plan, which was published in the October 23 issue of Science.

Elke Jordan, deputy director of NHGRI and coauthor of the plan, which calls for completion of the sequence by 2003, two years ahead of previous projections, told BioInform that it was written "with the assumption that the budget would be similar to what it finally came out to be." NHGRI's total 1999 budget is $265 million.

The plan calls for substantial investment in five key areas related to database and analytical tools development: improved content and utility of databases; developing better tools for data generation, capture, and annotation; developing and improving tools and databases for comprehensive functional studies; developing and improving tools for representing and analyzing sequence similarity and variation; and creating mechanisms to support effective approaches for producing robust, exportable software that can be widely shared.

New money, however, will go first to human sequencing efforts, Jordan said, explaining, "It was because of the anticipated increase that we were able to say we would be able to finish the human sequence earlier." She added that improvements in efficiency and throughput in sequencing labs are other significant factors enabling a faster finish.

Jordan continued, "In addition to sequencing, which is heavily dependent on bioinformatics, we are also moving into other new bioinformatics-dependent areas." For instance, she said, the project will begin to explore how sequence variation among individuals relates to health and disease. "That will require very different kinds of informatics products to study," she contended, adding, "We're also going into technology development for functional DNA analysis."

According to Jordan, NHGRI will spend another "chunk of money" to underwrite advanced development by industry or academic groups of prototype-stage technology. Candidates for the grant program, slated to begin next year, will be inventors of products that "will improve some step or other in the sequencing process" but that need further development to be introduced into a large-scale, high-throughput operation, she explained. She cited as an example new technology that will go "even beyond the capillary gel electrophoresis instruments," such as Perkin-Elmer's popular new ABI 3700 DNA analyzer. Jordan added, "There are a number of interested parties in companies that are looking forward to us announcing this program."

--Adrienne Burke

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