Second DNA sequencer puts research a step ahead
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