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NHGRI Injects $19M into Projects to Fuel Faster Sequencing

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute said today that it has pumped $19 million into new research and development projects that seek to bring down the costs of DNA sequencing.

The six new projects, funded through NHGRI's Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology Program, will use a range of approaches and technologies, such as microfluidic devices, graphene nanopores, and chip-based sequencing methods, to develop tools that could make genome sequencing cheaper while retaining or enhancing its speed and accuracy.

"We can now access data we could not dream of getting in 2004 when we started this program — tens of thousands of human genome sequences have been generated," NHGRI Director Eric Green said in a statement. "And yet, the information we would truly like to get for understanding disease and, eventually, for treating patients, requires much better quality sequence data. That is the direction we would like to go with these grants."

The 2012 awards include grants to Genapsys; Harvard University; GnuBio; Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania; Intel and other partners; and Northeastern University and Pacific Biosciences.

"Several of the investigative teams will explore novel nanoscale sensing modes and approaches for manipulating DNA molecules with great precision by using nanoscale structures," Jeffery Schloss, program director for the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology Program, said in a statement.

Genapsys, based in Redwood City, Calif., received $3.3 million over three years to develop chip-based DNA sequencing technology that combines multiple sample processing steps with sequencing in a single device called the Gene Electronic Nano-Integrated Ultra-Sensitive platform.

Harvard University researchers Jene Golovchenko and Daniel Branton were awarded $3.6 million to develop a scalable graphene nanopore sequencing device that will identify DNA subunits on unlabeled, single-stranded genomic DNA molecules.

Cambridge, Mass.-based firm GnuBio, along with a Harvard University researcher, won $4.5 million over three years to boost the throughput of a single channel microfluidic instrument to enable whole genome sequencing in around six hours, including data analysis, genome alignment, and variant calling.

Columbia University scientist Kenneth Shepard and UPenn's Marija Drndic were awarded $1.5 million to develop faster and more sensitive electronics to enable sequencing based on arrays of nanopores.

Intel, the University of Twente in the Netherlands, Columbia University, and Pacific Biosciences will use a grant of $5 million over four years to develop a real-time, single-molecule sequencer that detects electrically active tags that will be attached to each of the four DNA subunits.

Northeastern University researcher Meni Wanunu and Pacific Biosciences' Jonas Korlach will use an $825,000, three-year grant to reduce the cost of Pacific Biosciences' single molecule real-time DNA sequencing by reducing the amount of DNA it requires to pictogram levels, or one trillionth of a gram.