A number of micro-sized technologies—such as nanopores and microfluidics—are among the approaches researchers will use to develop high-quality, low-cost DNA sequencing technology through new grants from the NIH. The grants, which total approximately $14.5 million to eight research teams over two to four years as funds become available, are the last to be awarded by the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of NIH.
The new group of awards—which total more than $4.5 million in the first year—is wide-ranging, and includes several research projects directed at improving the use of nanopores in DNA sequencing or creating nanopore arrays to enable large-scale DNA sequencing efforts.
The new grants are awarded (pending available funds) to:
For the past several years, nanopore research has been an important focus of the program’s grants. Nanopore-based DNA sequencing entails threading single DNA strands through tiny pores in a membrane. Bases—the chemical letters of DNA—are read one at a time as they squeeze through the nanopore. The different bases are identified by measuring differences in their effect on electrical current flowing through the pore. Nanopores used in DNA sequencing are extremely small, perhaps only about two nanometers wide, and come in several types: protein, solid state (also called synthetic) and nanopores made of DNA. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.
One of the projects will explore the use of microfluidics in DNA library preparation. A library is a collection of stretches of physical DNA. Microfluidics can be used to capture small amounts of liquid in hair-thin channels and wells. Another team plans to test a method using an enzyme to amplify a signal that will help identify DNA bases.
“While we continue to support many research projects centered on the development of nanopore technology, some of the new grants focus on additional unique approaches to sequencing DNA,” said Jeffery Schloss, Ph.D., NHGRI genome technology program director. Schloss also is director of the division of genome sciences. “Despite discussion about approaching the goal of sequencing a genome for only $1,000, many challenges remain in terms of containing costs and achieving a high quality of DNA sequencing data.”
This group of awards is the last for the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program, which began in 2004.