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4-Patents: Craig Venter to sequence - and patent? - Sargasso Seaorganisms



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TITLE:  Human gene expert to take on Sargasso Sea
SOURCE: Reuters, by Maggie Fox
DATE:   Apr 28, 2003

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Human gene expert to take on Sargasso Sea

WASHINGTON - The scientist best known for leading the crash effort to
sequence the human genetic map won government funding last week to take
on an entire ecosystem - the Sargasso Sea.

The U.S. Department of Energy said it would give Craig Venter $9 million
to try to sequence the genomes of every organism his team could find in
the sea, an ellipse of warm, algae-filled waters that circulates in the
Atlantic Ocean from the West Indies past Bermuda to the Azores.

Venter's nonprofit Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives will
spend $3 million a year for the next three years on the project, U.S.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

The project ... "may lead to the development of new methods for carbon
sequestration or alternative energy production and will work to engineer
a particular type of microbe that could produce hydrogen, an important
component in our clean energy future," Abraham said in a statement.

Venter, who left Celera Genomics Inc. after it raced with publicly funded
researchers to finish the map of the human genome in 2000, said the high-
tech instruments used in that effort would make the new project possible.

"It's sort of a shotgun sequence of the ocean," said Venter, whose new
venture is based in Maryland near Celera's headquarters and those of
another organization he helped found, The Institute for Genomic Research.

"We are now trying to see if we can do hundreds of thousands of organisms
simultaneously."

The Sargasso Sea works well because it is considered an ecological
"desert" with relatively little life. Known for its warm, crystalline
waters, the sea is covered with huge, floating mats of sargassum seaweed,
for which it is named.

The project might help explain why the region is so devoid of life - or
whether it is as empty of life as it seems to be, Venter said. "It's
going to start to give us a catalog of what's here," Venter said in a
telephone interview.

"We'll know who's there and what they are doing."

Venter said his team would throw a mixture of organisms from the sea into
IBEA's genome sequencing equipment and see what comes out.

"We will have the first major results by this summer," Venter predicted.
"We will let the computer sort it all out."

He said tests showed that the computers could differentiate the genome
from one organism from that of another, even when the information was
muddled up together.