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NHGRI Awards $6.8M in Grants for DNA, RNA Sequencing Technology Development

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Human Genome Research Institute committed nearly $6.8 million in grant funding in September to support six research projects advancing DNA and RNA sequencing technology.

The funding comes as part of the NHGRI's Genome Technology Program, which began in 2004 to promote the development of new methods, technologies, and instruments enabling rapid and low-cost DNA sequencing, SNP genotyping, and functional genomics.

Among those who most recently received grant funding was Arizona State University's Stuart Lindsay, who was awarded $1.5 million over three years to develop a single-molecule RNA sequencing technique. The approach is based on recognition tunneling, which uses uses pairs of electrodes coated in layers of recognition molecules, which bond weakly to target analytes when they pass through the gap between the electrodes. The signal generated by an analyte's passage through this gap can be used as a fingerprint to identify a particular molecule.

With the NHGRI award, Lindsay aims to refine the use of recognition tunneling for single-molecule RNA sequencing, as well as collaborate with microelectromechanical systems firm Norcada on the large-scale manufacture of arrays of sequencing devices.

Meanwhile, Columbia University's Kenneth Shepard received a $1.2 million, three-year grant to develop a low-cost and high-speed method for enzyme-free, nanopore-based sequencing of chromosomal-length DNA molecules. He and his colleagues are aiming to create a multiplexed solid-state nanopore platform that would enable a per-pore sequencing rate of at least 105 bases per second at an error rate of less than .1 percent. The platform is expected to be able to detect signal levels as low as 225 pA at signal-to-noise ratios greater than eight and bandwidth better than 3 MHz.

Also receiving NHGRI funding is Northeastern University's Meni Wanunu, who has been granted $1.7 million over three years to develop an improved version of a nanopore zero-mode waveguide — which was developed by his lab in collaboration with Pacific Biosciences — for direct DNA and RNA sequencing at picogram input levels. Wanunu expects to be able to use this technology to directly sequence full-length RNA and DNA transcripts, with sensitivity to secondary structure and base modifications in various low-input sources.

The NHGRI also issued a $1.9 million, four-year grant to the University of California, Irvine's Philip Collins, who is validating an electronic method for single-molecule DNA sequencing. The technique involves single DNA polymerase molecules bound to nanoscale electronic transistors, which transduce the activity of a single polymerase molecule into an electronic signal. Collins will test whether it can be used for accurate DNA sequencing and if it offers significant benefits over other sequencing methods.

Lastly, the NHGRI awarded two one-year grants each worth $225,000 to researchers from Electronic Biosciences. The first grant supports work on the company's flossing technology, which uses an optimized alpha-hemolysin protein pore for single-strand DNA sequencing. The second is funding development of a nanopore capable of allowing the capture and reading of DNA mononucleotides from exonucleases.