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NIH Awards $28.6M to Three Sequencing Centers as Part of $42M Round for Human Microbiome Project

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The National Institutes of Health said today that it has awarded $28.6 million in total to three large-scale sequencing centers to sequence microorganisms for the Human Microbiome Project over the next four years.

The funding is part of a $42 million round that also includes one-year awards to 15 pilot demonstration projects that will study the microbiomes of healthy volunteers and individuals with specific diseases.

The four-year awards go to three sequencing centers who participated in the initial phase of the project: The Washington University Genome Center at Washington University School of Medicine, and its principal investigator George Weinstock, will receive $16.1 million; the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, under principal investigator Richard Gibbs, will received $3.7 million in funding; and the J. Craig Venter Institute, with principal investigator Bob Strausberg, will obtain $8.8 million.

NIH said that JCVI's funding has been provided through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That funding "will provide a much-needed investment to spur advances in the understanding of how microorganisms that live in or on our bodies affect our health."

In addition, the Broad Institute, which also participated in the early part of the project, "is expected to participate in this phase of the project," according to NIH, but was not awarded funding as part of this round.

The centers will collectively sequence at least 400 microbial genomes, according to the announcement. Approximately 500 additional microbes are in the process of being sequenced, or have been sequenced, supported by individual NIH institutes and microbiome projects in other countries.

The data will be used to characterize microbial communities from the digestive tract, the mouth, the skin, the nose, and the vagina of healthy volunteers.

In addition to the sequencing awards, the NIH funded 15 one-year pilot demonstration projects. These will study changes in the microbiome at certain body sites in healthy individuals and those with disease. The body sites sampled will be the digestive tract, the mouth, the skin, the nose, the vagina, the blood, and the male urethra. A list of the pilot demonstration projects, principal investigators, and institutions can be found here.

NIH will review each project after one year to evaluate if it meets milestones and whether it is able "to demonstrate a definable relationship between a body site microbiome and disease," according to the release.

The Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2007 as one of several NIH Roadmap initiatives and is a $140 million, five-year project.

Prior phases of the Human Microbiome Project awarded "jumpstart" funding to create a framework and data resources, as well as funding to develop new technologies and computational tools, to coordinate the data analysis, and to examine the ethical, legal, and social implications of the project.

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