Next-Generation Gene Sequencing Technology Enables Advanced Genomic Research

Jan. 29, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — A newly installed next-generation genome analysis technology will help scientists at The University of Texas at Austin rapidly catalog large genomes and further push the boundaries of genomic research.

The technology will give researchers the ability to unravel the genetic causes of disease, develop better medical diagnostics, understand how animals adapt to climate change and look at how genes influence behaviors like monogamy and aggression.

"The University of Texas at Austin is demonstrating a significant commitment to cutting-edge biology for the 21st century," says Dr. Scott Hunicke-Smith, director of the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Facility.

The "next-gen" technology, SOLiDTM System from Applied Biosystems, a division of Life Technologies, is sponsored by the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Texas Institute for Drug and Diagnostic Development and the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology.

It will be used by scientists from across the College of Natural Sciences, and Hunicke-Smith anticipates the new instrumentation will also draw potential collaborators and corporate partners from outside the university. Access to the instrumentation will be available to all life science researchers.

University of Texas at Austin researchers are at a huge advantage because of the large-scale computing power provided by the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). The proximity of this facility will enable them to quickly analyze the enormous amounts of data generated by this technology, which is capable of generating up to 20 billion bases of mappable gene sequence data per run.

"No other institution can move as quickly as we can with the new sequencers and computational backbone at TACC," says Hunicke-Smith.

Next-generation sequencing technologies provide genomic analysis for a variety of organisms. Previously, such studies were only accessible for a short list of well-studied models such as humans and fruit flies.

Researchers such as Dr. Mikhail Matz, assistant professor of integrative biology, will use the SOLiD System to conduct comparative genomics studies of coral reef populations from different climates.

The Matz team will investigate coral populations to identify the molecular mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation to global climate change. These findings are expected to help better understand coral biology and conservation practices needed to improve coral survival.

Other university researchers may use the next-gen technology to characterize the genetic make-up of various species of algae that could hold promise for generating biofuels.

In addition to these comparative genomic studies, researchers such as Dr. Edward Marcotte will conduct targeted studies on candidate genes in disease pathways.

"This high-throughput sequencing system makes sequencing candidate genes from individuals suffering from disease dramatically easier," says Marcotte, a professor of biochemistry who studies protein-encoding genes. "For example, we can now sequence 100 candidate genes from 100 patients for the same price as sequencing one gene from 100 patients using the conventional technology."

"The availability of this new technology will put genome-level analysis in the hands of anyone at this university," says Hunicke-Smith.

The Genome Sequencing and Analysis Facility will hold an open house on Feb. 10. For more information, contact Hunicke-Smith at scotth@mail.utexas.edu.

For more information, contact: Lee Clippard, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675; Scott Hunicke-Smith, 512-232-5924; Lauren Lum, 650-638-6916.