Genome Institute Triples its DNA Sequencing

Gina Miller (
Mon, 14 Jun 1999 12:57:15 -0700

Energy Department's Joint Genome Institute Triples its DNA Sequencing Capacity

WASHINGTON--(BW HealthWire)--June 14, 1999--

State-of-the-Art Machines will Help Decode Genes Involved in

Diabetes, Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Joint Genome Institute has tripled its capacity to decode human DNA with the purchase of 24 MegaBACE(TM) DNA sequencers from [ Amersham Pharmacia Biotech ] valued at nearly $5 million. Funding permitting, the department plans additional purchases of machines that could increase the institute's capacity by another factor of two or more.

"As the founder of the Human Genome Project and owner of a new,
state-of-the-art DNA sequencing facility, the Department of Energy is driving cutting-edge technology as it works with its international partners to decode the complete human genome, a resource that will revolutionize biology and health care," said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. The Institute's sequencing operation is housed in its Production Sequencing Facility, located in Walnut Creek, California, which was dedicated by Secretary Bill Richardson on April 19.

The new machines will "sequence" or determine the order of human DNA "bases" or chemical building blocks. Each MegaBACE instrument can sequence up to 600,000 base units per day. Together with the DNA sequencing facility's current instruments, the new machines bring the facility's total sequencing capacity to more than 14 million raw bases per day. The new instruments are being leased through [ Comdisco Inc. ] Twelve of the new machines have been installed and are producing at capacity, with the remainder to be installed over the next few weeks.

MegaBACE represents a new generation of high-throughput DNA sequencing instruments. These instruments were the first to use multiple capillaries, instead of large flat gels, to "read" the sequence of DNA, technology that was largely developed with funding from the DOE human genome program, and subsequently licensed to AP Biotech. "Our work with these sequencers, thus far, leads us to be very optimistic about their performance and about the support AP Biotech is providing," said Joint Genome Institute director Dr. Elbert Branscomb. "The increase in productivity they can provide will be critical in allowing us to meet our very accelerated sequencing goals."

The institute's current sequencing targets are human chromosomes 5, 16 and 19, three of the 23 pairs of human chromosomes. These chromosomes contain approximately 300 million base pairs of DNA, ten percent of the entire human genome. These chromosomes include genes already known to be involved in diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and asthma. Over 200 researchers will work at the Production Sequencing Facility in three shifts around the clock to sequence their part of the human genome. Their results will continue to be published daily, allowing the scientific community free and immediate access to the data.

The Energy Department established the Joint Genome Institute in 1997 as a consortium of its Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories. The institute is one of the five largest publicly-funded human genome sequencing centers in the world and a key contributor to the global public effort to sequence the draft human genome within the next 10 months.

The Department of Energy began the Human Genome Project in 1986 to map and determine the complete DNA sequence of the human genome. The project's ultimate goal is to discover the more than 50,000 human genes and enable biologists to study them in detail. DOE's role in the project arose from the historical congressional mandate of its predecessor agencies (the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration) to study the genetic and health effects of radiation and chemical by-products of energy production. From this work grew the recognition that the best way to learn about these effects was to study DNA directly. The ability to analyze the entire human genome makes it possible to observe changes in DNA itself before they may result in disease observed by traditional epidemiological research.

Currently, DOE and the National Institutes of Health jointly manage the U.S. Human Genome Project which is part of an international effort to sequence the human genome.

Amersham Pharmacia Biotech, a joint venture between [ Nycomed Amersham plc ] and Pharmacia UpJohn Inc, is a major international biotechnology company with headquarters in New Jersey, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Additionally, it has facilities in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Additional information on the department's human genome program can be found at Additional information on the department's Joint Genome Institute and Gene Sequencing Facility can be found at

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
Nanotechnology Industries
Alternate E-mail
"Nanotechnology: solutions for the future."