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NHGRI Commits $7M for Revolutionary Sequencing Awards

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute plans to spend $7 million this year and next to fund new grants to investigators and small businesses working on technologies that can continue cutting the cost of genome sequencing toward the $1,000 mark.

NHGRI on Friday published three new requests for applications under its Revolutionary Genome Sequencing Technologies — the $1,000 Genome program, which continues an effort that started in 2004 when the cost of producing a high-quality draft of a mammalian genome ran from $5 million to $10 million.

The institute launched this funding effort in 2004 to reduce that cost by four orders of magnitude over 10 years, and that price has been reduced dramatically since the project started.

These grants will fund projects to develop full-scale sequencing technologies or system components, which in this context means methods for determining the linear order of nucleotides. The overarching goal to develop tools that enable the rapid and efficient sequencing of a mammalian-sized genome for $1,000 was set at that level because genome sequencing at that price could "revolutionize biological research and medicine," NHGRI said in the RFA.

The eventual target will be to produce assembled de novo sequences, but because an accompanying goal is to obtain highly accurate sequence data at the base level that can be overlain on a reference genome, NHGRI also will fund development of resequencing tools. These resequencing technologies would need to be accurate enough to distinguish between sequencing errors and true polymorphisms.

Because most technology developers "lack practical experience in high-throughput sequencing and in testing of methods and instruments for robust, routine sequencing operation," NHGRI said, investigators may wish to bring in outside partners with expertise in these areas or to collaborate with companies "that have the experience and capabilities to bring practical systems into the hands of users."

NHGRI also said that the sequence quality is "of paramount importance" to these grants, because the utility of comparative sequence information will come from variation studies between and within species. Per-base accuracy for this program must be sharp enough to distinguish polymorphisms at the single-nucleotide level and must not include more than one error per 10,000 bases.

Investigators and businesses applying for these projects also may plan to develop computational tools that can extract sequence information and evaluate sequence quality, or to assemble sequence data that the technologies generate, but this program will not fund development of software for sequence analysis or assembly.

The institute has issued three RFAs to fund these technology development grants.

It will commit $2 million this year to fund Small Business Innovation Research grants that provide up to $250,000 for phase I and $1 million for phase II projects.

Another $4 million will be committed in 2014 to fund investigator-initiated R01 awards that will support projects requiring up to $1 million per year.

Also in 2014, NHGRI will provide another $1 million to fund exploratory/developmental projects requesting up to $200,000 per year.