Sec­ond DNA se­quencer puts re­search a step ahead

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

Adam Cress­well Health ed­i­tor

IT took hun­dreds of sci­en­tists over 10 years to se­quence the hu­man genome, the hered­i­tary blue­print en­coded in our DNA. The $600,000 ma­chine in­stalled this week at the Univer­sity of Queens­land can do the same thing in a cou­ple of months.

The latest-gen­er­a­tion DNA se­quencer is one of only four out­side the US — and the sec­ond to be de­liv­ered to the univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for Molec­u­lar Bio­science in the past few weeks. Sci­en­tists around the coun­try are queue­ing up to use the ma­chines, which ex­perts say will al­low Aus­tralia to make huge strides in tack­ling killer dis­eases.

Al­ready there are plans to use the new de­vices to find out what goes hay­wire in can­cer cells, and how bac­te­ria be­come re­sis­tant to an­tibi­otics. Late last week ex­perts from across the coun­try met to dis­cuss us­ing the ma­chines to dis­cover the DNA se­quence of bac­te­ria that kill chil­dren with cys­tic fi­bro­sis.

Sci­en­tist Sean Grim­mond, head of the IMB’s ex­pres­sions ge­nomics lab­o­ra­tory, has pre­vi­ously done pi­o­neer­ing work on gene se­quenc­ing.

The IMB says it is his rep­u­ta­tion that has al­lowed Aus­tralia to be the first coun­try out­side the US to get one of the ma­chines, in Oc­to­ber. Since then, one ma­chine has been de­liv­ered to an in­sti­tu­tion in Ja­pan, and an­other in Europe. Yes­ter­day’s ar­rival means Aus­tralia is now also the first coun­try out­side the US to get two.

Rapid and in­ex­pen­sive DNA se­quenc­ing will al­low ex­perts to study the changes inside a hu­man cell that turns can­cer­ous, and what hap­pens to the DNA of bac­te­ria that no longer re­spond to cer­tain drugs.

‘‘ Th­ese two ma­chines will be able to gen­er­ate in the or­der of 12,000 mil­lion base pairs (of DNA) a week — that’s four times the hu­man genome,’’ said Grim­mond. ‘‘ The scale of that is as­tro­nom­i­cal. The chal­lenge is that when you gen­er­ate so much data, you need to be on top of both the bi­ol­ogy and the com­put­ing.’’

To cope with the num­ber-crunch­ing, each of the ma­chines comes with its own su­per­com­puter slung un­der­neath.

To put it in house­hold terms, the amount of data gen­er­ated by a sin­gle run of just one of the ma­chines would fill up the hard drives of 70 100-gi­ga­byte home PCs.

The IMB’s di­rec­tor, Bran­don Wain­wright, Con­tin­ued inside — Page 13

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