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NHGRI's $17M DNA Sequencing Program to Focus on Nanopores

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Human Genome Research Institute has awarded around $17 million under its Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program to eight research teams developing technology aimed at driving down the cost of DNA sequencing.

The majority of the funded projects, five of eight, will focus on methods and technology related to nanopore-based sequencing, a change from the program's previous years where funded groups were developing a range of technologies that included microfluidics, chip-based sequencing, and light-based sequencing.

"Nanopore technology shows great promise but it is still a new area of science," Jeffery Schloss, program director of the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program and director of NHGRI's Division of Genome Sciences, said in a statement. "We have much to learn about how nanopores can work effectively as a DNA sequencing technology, which is why five of the program’s eight grants are exploring this approach."

Nanopore sequencing involves threading a single molecule of DNA through a pore less than 2 nanometers in diameter. The individual DNA bases are read by deciphering changes in the signal caused from the flow of ions through the pore when a specific base is occupying the pore.

The funded groups include:

• Oleksii Aksimentiev at the University of Illinois, who was awarded $2.47 million over four years to develop a system that combines synthetic nanopores with light-based technique to control the flow of DNA molecules.

• A group at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center led by Jeremy Edwards to develop molecular biology tools for preparing DNA molecules for whole-genome sequencing. Edwards' team was awarded $1.35 million over three years.

• Jens Gundlach's group at the University of Washington, which has been developing a type of nanopore that uses Mycobacterium smegmatis porin A, or MspA as the protein nanopore. Gundlach's team will receive $3.83 million over four years to continue work on the MspA pore, specifically to focus on improving control of the DNA as it moves through the pore and to develop algorithms to read the bases.

• A team co-led by Jingyue Ju and James Russo at Columbia University and George Church at Harvard Medical School, which is receiving $5.25 million over three years to develop a miniaturized electronic system using nanopores to analyze single molecules of DNA.

• Eve Biomedical, based in Mountain View, Calif., to develop a light-based technology to sequence DNA on a cell phone chip. The research team, being led by Theofilos Kosteroglou aims to be able to sequence an entire genome for under $100. The group will receive $493,000 over two years.

• Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst to study the challenges underlying nanopore sequencing, including slowing down the rate at which DNA molecules flow through the pore, the effects of specific ions, and changes in the shape of the DNA and other environmental aspects. The team, led by Murugappan Muthukumar, will receive $1.07 million over four years.

• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by John Michael Ramsey, which will receive $2.05 million over four years to develop a low-cost method for mapping individual genomes.

• Electronic Biosciences in San Diego, which will receive $239,000 to develop chemical methods to slow the rate of single-stranded DNA molecules as they pass through protein nanopores. Anna Schibel is spearheading that research group.