The era of sequencing an organism for sequence's sake is coming to an end. Today, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in Bethesda, Maryland, announced it will pour more than $116 million into three sequencing centers, which will use "large-scale" sequencing to focus on unraveling the sources of disease and elucidating the workings of disease-causing organisms. The hefty grants will go to three of the key participants in the Human Genome Project: Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Richard Wilson of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Richard Gibbs of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
The human genome was officially completed in 2003 (ScienceNOW, 14 April 2003), and since then scientists have sequenced everything from the mouse to the chimpanzee to, most recently, the honeybee and sea urchin (ScienceNOW, 25 October). Studies like these have spurred the field of comparative genomics, as scientists seek to better understand relationships between species and how they evolved. Meanwhile, gene-sequencing technology has progressed by leaps and bounds, becoming far cheaper in the process.
The next step, as NHGRI sees it, is to begin devoting resources to projects that will result in more immediate medical benefits. Those include endeavors such as the Cancer Genome Atlas, which NHGRI launched with the National Cancer Institute almost a year ago to identify the gene changes that lead to cancer. The initial results were reported in September (Science, 15 September 2006, p. 1370). So why do more large-scale sequencing? "We have such a long way to go before we understand the inner workings of the human genome" and how it's linked to disease, says Eric Green, NHGRI's scientific director and head of the National Institutes of Health intramural sequencing center. "We're only going to learn that by generating lots more sequencing data."
With that in mind, NHGRI next year plans to award $48 million to the Broad Institute Sequencing Platform, $41 million to Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, and $27.6 million to the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor. The grants run for 4 years, and how much each center gets after next year will depend on the agency's funding, says Jane Peterson, NHGRI's associate director of extramural research.
"It's an exciting time in sequencing," says Edward Rubin, director of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, in Walnut Creek, California. "The future landscape has really changed."