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Scripps, Venter Center, UCSD Hope to Build New Lab to Study Oceanographic Metagenomics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The Scripps Institution for Oceanography hopes to expand its partnership with the J. Craig Venter Institute and the University of California, San Diego, by building a new lab to study marine metagenomics, a Scripps researcher told GenomeWeb News this week.
 
John Orcutt said UCSD's Board of Regents will probably consider the project sometime in the middle of 2007.
 
The institute is considering building a facility in LaJolla somewhere between UCSD and Scripps, but would disclose no specifics other than to say it would probably be on property already owned by UCSD.
 
He said the Scripps was not ready to talk about dates, or when ground might be broken if the Regents approve the plan.
 
The San Diego Union-Tribune last week reported that the Regents were already reviewing a proposal for the center, which would “develop drugs from ocean microbes.”  
 
Orcutt said researchers at the new lab would be involved in interdisciplinary studies, collecting data, and observing marine microbes that could play a role in drug development and as alternative energy sources.
 
The idea behind the facility, which Orcutt describes as a center for marine biomedicine and biotechnology, is to "get a lot of people to work on the marine genome, and then get all of these scientists working together in one place to try to understand better the marine genome, how it might apply to medicine, how it might be applied to energy, and more as time goes on."
 
Scripps, UCSD, and the Venter Institute are already involved in a related metagenomic project to study ocean microbes. As GenomeWeb News reported, that project, the Community Cyber-infrastructure for Advanced Microbial Ecology Research, or CAMERA, began in January 2006 and is working off a $24.5-million grant that is being issued over seven years by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
 
Using genomes from marine organisms to create alternative energy sources has been a Venter hobbyhorse since at least 2002 when he founded a trio of nonprofits, one of which, the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, was charged with looking to biology for a variety of environmental problems, including global warming. When it was unveiled at the time, IBEA was to study oceanic microbes and their genomes to help researchers develop better ways to produce energy.
 
The nonprofits were reorganized in 2004 and again last month.
 
Scripps already has a research program on marine genetics, and it has access to researchers at UCSD's Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences School, which Orcutt said may work with Scripps researchers on developing any medical applications found in microbial marine life.
 
The Venter Institute, through a spokesperson, would not comment on the proposed facility or on the expanded partnership between the three groups.