The NIH said today it awarded a total of about $14.5 million in grants to eight research teams that will use the funds over two to four years toward research into new DNA sequencing technologies. The grants are the last to be awarded by the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

“Despite discussion about approaching the goal of sequencing a genome for only $1,000, many challenges remain in terms of containing costs and achieving a high quality of DNA sequencing data,” NHGRI Genome Technology Program Director Jeffery Schloss, Ph.D., said in a statement.

“While we continue to support many research projects centered on the development of nanopore technology, some of the new grants focus on additional unique approaches to sequencing DNA,” added Dr. Schloss, who is also director of the Division of Genome Sciences.

The majority of the funding was awarded to researchers at five universities. The Scripps Research Institute was awarded the largest grant at $4.4 million over four years. Principal Investigator M. Reza Ghadiri, Ph.D., will lead Scripps researchers as they plan to produce protein nanopore arrays in order to sequence tens of thousands of DNA molecules in parallel, with the eventual goal of sequencing a human genome in as little as 10 minutes.

Dr. Ghadiri’s team will explore three separate approaches, including arrays of lipid bilayers containing nanopores, protein pores individually embedded in synthetic films, and nanopores made of DNA that are distributed on DNA scaffolds.

University of California, San Diego, (UCSD) will receive $3.7 million over four years. A team headed by principal investigators Kun Zhang, Ph.D. and Xiaohua Huang, Ph.D., will work to develop a system using microfluidics that will enable accurate genome sequencing of a single mammalian cell.

The UCSD investigators will separate and sequence single chromosomal DNA strands, then use their new technology capable of making copies of genomes to create DNA sequence libraries for DNA sequencing of single cells.

UC Santa Cruz won $2.29 million over three years, as a team led by principal investigator: Mark Akeson, Ph.D., plan to sequence single DNA molecules by using a nanopore device consisting of a sensor that touches, examines and identifies each nucleotide in a DNA strand as an enzyme motor moves it through the pore. The scientists will focus on DNA “resequencing,” in which DNA nucleotides are repeatedly examined to compensate for the initial difficulty in accurately reading each strand. 

University of Washington, Seattle, was awarded $1.7 million over three years. Principal investigator Jay Shendure, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues plan to develop new molecular biology techniques to efficiently and cost-effectively stitch together genomes across long distances. The team is looking to improve the quality of genomes that are generated by new DNA sequencing technologies.

University of Pennsylvania will receive $880,000 over two years. Principal investigator Marija Drndic, Ph.D., will lead researchers as they strive to developing a synthetic nanopore from graphene, with the goal of enabling detection of individual DNA bases without the need to slow down the DNA molecule as it passes through a pore. Researchers hope to directly identify DNA bases by measuring unique differences in current flowing through the graphene.

Three companies received the remaining grant funding. Caerus Molecular Diagnostics of Mountain View, California was awarded $701,000 over three years. Principal Investigator Javier Farinas, Ph.D., will lead a team that plans to test a technology that uses an engineered enzyme switch to convert the product of a single molecule DNA sequencing reaction into many copies of an easily-detected reporter molecule. The method is intended to more accurately identify DNA bases; researchers commonly use a system to identify DNA bases that entails making many copies of DNA and detecting a light signal from the DNA.

Illumina of San Diego won $592,000 over two years as principal investigator Boyan Boyanov, Ph.D., and colleagues work to create a hybrid protein solid-state nanopore array system that can enable scientists to sequence DNA on a large scale. Their goal is to improve the robustness of nanopore platforms by combining computer chip fabrication methods with biological nanopores to enable high-throughput sequencing.

Eve Biomedical of Mountain View, Calif., will receive $500,000 over two years. Principal investigator: Theofilos Kotseroglou, Ph.D., and co-workers will study a system to sequence DNA using a polymerase on a carbon nanotube, in an array format. The system is designed to enable bases of the sample DNA to be identified through the change in conductivity on the nanotube resulting from the enzyme’s motion while interacting with a DNA sample.

The grant numbers of the awards are the following: R01 HG007827; R21 HG007833; R21 HG007856; R43 HG007843; R01 HG003709; R43 HG007871; R01 HG006283; and R01 HG007836. 

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