GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Genome project moving to DOE nuclear labs



Nature         31 October 1996

                         Energy labs link up genome efforts

              Washington. The US Department of Energy (DoE) is to
              consolidate its $35-million-a-year gene-sequencing effort
              under a single organization, the Joint Genome Institute,
              which it says will sequence up to 40 per cent of the 3
              billion base pairs in the human genome by 2005.

              Officials say the move is intended to be much more than a
              cosmetic change to DoE's gene- sequencing effort. It is
              seen as a much-needed attempt by the department to regain
              the initiative in the US Human Genome Project, which
              originated in DoE laboratories in 1986 but is now 70 per
              cent funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

              The new institute will control sequencing work at the
              Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National
              Laboratories in California, and at the Los Alamos
              National Laboratory in New Mexico. Its director, Elbert
              Branscomb, formerly a senior scientist at Livermore, does
              not deny that the DoE has been falling behind the NIH and
              the private sector in sequencing the genome. "We became
              persuaded that, if we didn't do something, that would
              rapidly become the case," he says.

              The institute will account for about half of the DoE's
              total effort under the Human Genome Project. Branscomb
              says that it will change the way in which the
              laboratories do sequencing "to a fairly dramatic extent",
              with all the work "being managed and funded as a single
              effort". He promises that it "will not be 'business as
              usual' in any sense at all".

              He says the institute will work with overseas agencies
              and the NIH's National Center for Human Genome Research
              to compile the complete human genome sequence of 3
              billion base pairs, and make it available to all
              researchers. Most privately- backed efforts to complete
              the sequence are going on "behind a proprietary wall",
              reinforcing the need for the public-sector effort.

              The institute will aim to produce a share of the human
              genome proportional to its budget, which, Branscomb says,
              will mean between 20 and 30 per cent of the full
              sequence. The rest will come from NIH and non-US
              contributors. High overhead costs of working in the DoE
              laboratories will be one of the institute's main
              challenges.

              The DoE often struggles to win recog-nition from the
              public and Congress for its contributions to health
              research. The laboratories jealously guard their own
              territories. But the directors of the three labs involved
              in the institute support its creation enthusiastically,
              Branscomb says, as a way to increase their
              gene-sequencing productivity.

              Colin Macilwain                            [Back to top]

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[Image] Nature  Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1996
[Image] Nature  Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1996
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