New Goal: To Double Known Human DNA by 2000

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) yesterday awarded $60.5 million to seven centers across the United States to scale up their efforts to sequence the human genome. By September 1999, these groups have promised to produce 117 million bases of the total 9 billion that make up our genetic code. U.S. researchers have contributed 67 million base pairs to the international effort, which has churned out 154 million pairs and counting.

Washington University in St. Louis will do the bulk of next year's work, sequencing 60 million base pairs with its $26.8 million grant. Committed to sequencing the other 57 million base pairs are Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the University of Washington in Seattle, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Already the largest sequencing center, Washington University also got the biggest percentage increase from previous years, while Stanford University, which did not meet its original goals, received slightly less, $3 million, than it had last year.

One previous participant, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland, got axed--to nobody's surprise. In May, TIGR's founder, J. Craig Venter, announced he was teaming up with Perkin-Elmer Corp. in Norwalk, Connecticut, to independently sequence the human genome in one pass, rather than piece by piece as are other groups (see ScienceNOW, 12 May). At the time, Venter said the new company will finish the important parts of the entire genome on its own in 3 years.

Venter's announcement has prompted some researchers to urge NHGRI to speed up its sequencing efforts. "If the money [were] available, clearly there's an ability to do tons more sequencing," says Eric Lander, who directs the sequencing center at the Whitehead Institute. That was not possible this year because there is no extra money in the budget, says Jane Peterson, who oversees the NHGRI human genome sequencing effort. "But if things go well, we'd like to increase that [support] in the future." The NHGRI currently provides the lion's share of support for the U.S. sequencing effort.

Posted in Biology