Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program
Human Genome News Archive Edition
Human Genome Quarterly, Winter 1990; 1(3)
Progress Reported in Automation of DNA Sequencing
Participants at the first annual Genome Sequencing Conference learned that many laboratories have begun sequencing projects. DNA sequencing techniques, both manual and automated methods, were the subject of much discussion. Held October 24-26 at The Barns of Wolf Trap Farm, near Washington, D.C., the meeting was organized and chaired by J. Craig Venter of NIH and C. Thomas Caskey of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine.
The program-consisting of 32 lectures, 2 panel discussions, and a poster session-was derived from reviewed abstracts. To promote open discussion, the number of conference participants was limited to 150.
The Honorable Pete V. Domenici, United States Senator from New Mexico, spoke prior to a reception and dinner sponsored by Applied Biosystems, Inc. (ABI), at the Phillips Collection Gallery in Washington, D.C. He discussed the impact that DNA sequencing technology will have on this country's health care.
Throughout the conference, state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology was examined and redefined. Presentations made on the relative merits of manual and automated DNA sequencing demonstrated that the new automated methods have permitted the initiation of megabase sequencing projects. The general consensus was that manual sequencing methods were not likely to be useful for projects larger than those completed to date (200 kb); however, Fred Blattner (University of Wisconsin) indicated that he was using manual methods and would have the sequence of the E. coli chromosome nearly completed in one year.
New technologies (e.g., solid state and multiplex sequencing, as well as scanning tunneling microscopy) were also discussed. The consensus was that changes in DNA sequencing technology over the next 5 years are more likely to be made by incremental improvements in current technologies rather than by the institution of new technologies. Clearly, DNA sequence determination is no longer the rate-limiting step in the data-gathering process (i.e., cloning, sequencing, and data entry); the limiting factor is now data analysis.
Contributing to this shift is the substantial progress made in the automation of sequencing reactions. A number of laboratories are currently using automatic workstations with robotic systems that can perform all steps involved in these reactions.
Several new approaches for preparing templates for DNA sequencing were discussed; most of them were based on some form of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A full discussion explored the use of PCR for direct sequencing of chromosomal DNA.
Discussions at the conference indicated that the amount of DNA sequence information being added to databases is expected to increase dramatically in a very short time, and that the current mode of entry of new sequences into databases is inadequate. Two efforts under way will help to alleviate the problem: the GenBank® database is being restructured to facilitate input and access to sequence data, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information is integrating many different databases.
The topic of sequence distribution, both on a limited basis and for general use, elicited a strong debate about the period of time that sequencing laboratories should be allowed to retain generated sequences for in-house analysis before distributing them to databases. Most participants thought that a maximum of 1 year between sequence generation and dissemination is a reasonable working guideline until more experience is gained in information transfer.
The progress of current test projects, together with sequencing technology and computer/software advances, will be part of the agenda of the second annual Genome Sequencing Conference, scheduled for September 30 through October 3, 1990, in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Reported by J. Craig Venter
Receptor Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Section
National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, NIH
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The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.
Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.