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USDA Buys Eight High-Speed P-E DNA Analyzers

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BELTSVILLE, Md.--Installations of new high-speed DNA sequence analysis equipment at eight US Department of Agriculture research sites this spring will make the Agricultural Research Service "the single most powerful force in genome sequencing within the public agricultural research sector," according to Judy St. John, the agency's associate deputy administrator for crop production, product value, and safety.

St. John said that eight Perkin-Elmer ABI model 3700 DNA sequencers, valued at approximately $300,000 apiece, would be installed at facilities around the country to "allow researchers to speed analyses of plant, animal, and microbial genes" and "accelerate genetic discoveries to benefit our agriculture, food supply, environment, and consumers."

Some researchers in the plant genomics community, however, questioned the agency's decision to disperse the instruments among eight centers. An industry plant genomics expert, who spoke to BioInform on condition of anonymity, observed that the move contradicts the wisdom behind the US Department of Energy's recent decision to consolidate three of its human genome sequencing production facilities at one site. "Economies of scale say it makes more sense to centralize sequencing operations. Instead of training eight technicians to run eight costly-to-operate machines at eight separate sites it would make sense to have one center running eight machines," he contended.

Among labs receiving the new DNA analyzers are the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Orient Point, NY, which is studying microbial genomes that cause farm animal disease; the Agricultural Research Center here, which is studying cow mammary gland diseases; and the Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., with the Plant Gene Expression Center operated by the Agricultural Research Service and the University of California, Berkeley, where microbial, rice, wheat, and Arabidopsis are under study. Other research facilities to receive the machines are located in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; Athens, Ga.; Ames, Iowa; Clay Center, Neb.; and Wyndmoor, Pa.

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