New NIH/NHGRI grants for harnessing nanoscale technologies to cut DNA sequencing costs

Grants of almost $19 million will help to develop technologies to dramatically reduce the cost of DNA sequencing

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BETHESDA, Md.—September 14 saw the NationalHuman Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the U.S. National Institutes ofHealth (NIH), announce nearly
$19 million in grants that will help to developtechnologies to dramatically reduce the cost of DNA sequencing.
During the past decade, the NHGRI notes, DNA sequencing costs havefallen dramatically, fueled by tools,technologies and process improvements developed by genomics researchers. In2004, NHGRI launched the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology Program toaccelerate improvements in DNA sequencing technologies. By 2009, the programhad surpassed its initial goal of producing high-quality genome sequences ofroughly 6 billion base pairsfor $100,000 each. Today, the cost of sequencing a human genome using thesenext-generation DNA sequencing technologies has dipped to just under $8,000.
Price is one hurdle in the way of widespread useof genomics in research and clinical care, the institute notes, though speed and accuracy are among the otherfactors. The grants will attempt to address all of these challenges.
"We can now access data we could not dream ofgetting in 2004 when we started this program
—tens of thousands of human genomesequences have been generated," said Dr. Eric D. Green, NHGRIdirector. "And yet, the information we would truly like to get forunderstanding disease and, eventually, for treating patients, requires muchbetter quality sequence data. That is the direction we would like to go withthese grants."
The use of nanoscale devices for sequencing,reflected in many of these projects, is accelerating, and as such,
"Several of the investigative teams will explorenovel nanoscale sensing modes and approaches for manipulating DNA moleculeswith great precision by using nanoscale structures," noted Jeffery A. Schloss,program director for NHGRI's Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology Program.
The 2012 awards are:
Genapsys, Inc., Redwood City, Calif.
Hesaam Esfandyarpour, Ph.D.
Funding amount: $1.2 million in fiscal 2012 (total $3.3 million over three years subjectto the availability of appropriations)
Aim: Develop easy-to-use, chip-based DNAsequencing that combines multiple sample processing steps with sequencing in asingle device called the Gene Electronic Nano-Integrated Ultra-Sensitiveplatform.
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 
Jene Golovchenko, Ph.D., and Daniel Branton, Ph.D. 
Funding amount: $1.2 million in fiscal 2012 (total$3.6 million over three years subject to the availability of appropriations)
Aim: Develop a scalable graphene nanoporesequencing device that will identify DNA subunits on unlabeled, single-strandedgenomic DNA molecules.  Graphene is aspecial arrangement of a single layer of carbon atoms. The nanopore is a holein the graphene about two nanometers in diameter. 
GnuBIO, Inc., Cambridge, Mass. 
Tal Raz, Ph.D., with David Weitz, Ph.D., HarvardUniversity
Funding amount: $1.5 million fiscal 2012 (total$4.5 million over three years subject to the availability of appropriations) 
Aim: Increase the throughput of the current singlechannel microfluidic instrument to enable whole genome sequencing in about sixhours, including data analysis, genome alignment and variant calling.Microfluidics refers to plastic devices in which fluids move through tinychannels that are the diameter of a human hair.
Columbia University, New York City
Kenneth Shepard, Ph.D., with Marija Drndic, Ph.D.,University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Funding amount: $500,000 in FY2012 (total $1.5million over three years subject to the availability of appropriations)
Aim: Develop much faster and more sensitiveelectronics to enable sequencing based on arrays of nanopores.
Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., University ofTwente, Enschede-Noord, Netherlands, Columbia University, Pacific Biosciences,Menlo Park, Calif.  
Madoo Varma, Ph.D., Oguz H. Elibol, Ph.D., XingSu, Ph.D., Serge Guy Lemay, Ph.D., Kenneth Shepard, Ph.D., Stephen Turner,Ph.D.
Funding amount: $1.2 million fiscal 2012 (total $5million over four years subject to the availability of appropriations)
Aim: Develop a real-time, single-moleculesequencer that detects electrically active tags that will be attached to eachof the four DNA subunits
Northeastern University, Boston, PacificBiosciences
Meni Wanunu, Ph.D., and Jonas Korlach, Ph.D.
Funding amount: $300,000 fiscal 2012 (total$825,000 over three years subject to the availability of appropriations)
Aim: Reduce the cost of Pacific Biosciences'single-molecule real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencing by reducing the amount of DNAneeded to picogram levels.  A picogram is1 trillionth of a gram.
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