Singapore scientists join international study of 10,000 vertebrates' genomes

November 04, 2009

The Singapore laboratory that deciphered the DNA codes, or genomes, of the famed fugu (or pufferfish) and elephant shark, has joined The Genome 10K Project, an international effort to build an invaluable repository of DNA sequences on 10,000 species of animals for conducting comparative studies on a scale that currently can not be achieved.

Participating in The Genome 10K project, described in a paper published in the Nov. 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of Heredity, are 70 leading scientists at major zoos, museums, research centres and universities in North and South America, Europe, Australia as well as Asia. They will create a collection of tissue and DNA samples and then sequence and analyze the animals' genomes to reveal the complete genetic heritage of the 10,000 species.

The results will enable scientists worldwide to understand the genetic basis of adaptive changes that occur in vertebrates and predict how animals respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases and competition. In addition to aiding conservation efforts, this data will enable researchers to compare animal and human genomes, and reconstruct the evolutionary history of the human and other vertebrate genomes.

"The most challenging intellectual problem in biology for this century will be the reconstruction of our biological past so we can understand how complex organisms such as ourselves evolved," said Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner, M.D., who co-heads Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) comparative genomics laboratory, which will participate in The Genome 10 K Project.

"Genomes contain information from the past - they are molecular fossils - and having sequences from vertebrates will be an essential source of rich information," added Dr. Brenner, who also is Scientific Advisor to the Chairman of Singapore's A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), which oversees 14 biomedical sciences, and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and seven consortia and centres at Biopolis and Fusionopolis, as well as their immediate vicinity.

One of the initiators of the Genome 10K project, David Haussler, Ph.D., Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at University of California, Santa Cruz, said, "For the first time, we have a chance to really see evolution in action, caught in the act of changing whole genomes. This is possible because the technology to sequence DNA is thousands of times more powerful now than it was just a decade ago, and is poised to get even more powerful very soon."

Byrappa Venkatesh, Ph.D., who heads IMCB's comparative genomics lab and is one of the chairpersons of the Genome 10K committee, said, "This project will not only generate sequences of all important vertebrate genomes that we were contemplating to sequence, but also will give us access to the latest sequencing technologies and sequence analysis tools for genomic studies in Singapore."

IMCB Executive Director Neal Copeland, Ph.D., added, "We are delighted and honored that IMCB is participating in this momentous project, which is a fine example of the international nature of science. Following the successful revelation of the fugu genome in 2002, IMCB is looking forward to making even more important contributions to the international field of genomics through the Genome 10K project and remains committed to using the tools of modern science to make important, basic discoveries that will advance the understanding of the human genome and diseases."
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In addition to Dr. Haussler, the project initiators are Stephen J. O'Brien, M.D., M.P.H., Chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute and Oliver A. Ryder, Ph.D., Director of Genetics at the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research and Adjunct Professor of Biology at UC San Diego.

For more information, please contact:
Wang Yunshi (Ms)
Corporate Communications
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Tel: (65) 6826 6443
Email: wang_yunshi@a-star.edu.sg

Byrappa Venkatesh, Ph.D.
Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR
Tel: (65) 6586 9571
Email: mcbbv@imcb.a-star.edu.sg

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB):

The Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) is a member of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and is funded through A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council (BMRC). It is a world-class research institute that focuses its activities on six major fields: Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Genomics, Structural Biology, Infectious Diseases, Cancer Biology and Translational Research, with core strengths in cell cycling, cell signaling, cell death, cell motility and protein trafficking. Its achievements include leading an international consortium that successfully sequenced the entire pufferfish (fugu) genome. The IMCB was awarded the Nikkei Prize 2000 for Technological Innovation in recognition of its growth into a leading international research centre and its collaboration with industry and research institutes worldwide. Established in 1987, the Institute currently has 35 independent research groups with more than 400 staff members.

Dr. Venkatesh's laboratory at IMCB, which is staffed by 14 scientists including DNA sequencers, bioinformaticians and wet-lab biologists, has published significant findings on the human and fish genomes in Nature, Science, PLoS Biology and Genome Research. He initiated and led the International Fugu Genome Consortium that sequenced and annotated the complete pufferfish genome and subsequently identified the elephant shark as a novel model vertebrate genome and sequenced its DNA code.

For more information about IMCB, please visit www.imcb.a-star.edu.sg

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR):

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation-driven Singapore. A*STAR oversees 14 biomedical sciences, and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and seven consortia & centre, which are located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis, as well as their immediate vicinity.

A*STAR supports Singapore's key economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. It also supports extramural research in the universities, hospitals, research centres, and with other local and international partners.

For more information about A*STAR, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg

Genome 10K Project:

The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo -- a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus. The trajectory of cost reduction in DNA sequencing suggests that this project will be feasible within a few years. Capturing the genetic diversity of vertebrate species would create an unprecedented resource for the life sciences and for worldwide conservation efforts.

The growing Genome 10K Community of Scientists (G10KCOS), made up of leading scientists representing major zoos, museums, research centres, and universities around the world, is dedicated to coordinating efforts in tissue specimen collection that will lay the groundwork for a large-scale sequencing and analysis project.

The proposal for the project, launched in April 2009, is outlined in the paper, "A proposal to obtain whole genome sequence for 10,000 vertebrate species," published in Nov. 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of Heredity.

For more information, please visit http://genome10k.soe.ucsc.edu/

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

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