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Intellect

New genome sequencer speeds genetic research

Students and faculty researchers at Brigham Young University will now be able to sequence their genetic samples literally a million times faster than before thanks to a new genome sequencer.

The new machine, funded by a $630,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, can sequence a billion nucleotides in one run and allows professors and students to sequence whole genomes for projects ranging from cancer to cotton.

Keith Crandall, chair of the Department of Biology, will use the sequencer for his collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins to study cancers associated with viral infections.

Joshua Udall, an assistant professor of biology and the driving force behind the grant for the device, is using the new machine to sequence the cotton genome. By identifying the genes linked to particular traits like crop yield and drought resistance, he hopes to improve the quality and production of the plant.

Biologists like Udall must slice their samples into millions of segments before sequencing them.

Until now, the College of Life Sciences has been using an older DNA sequencer. The new one employs technology called pyrosequencing, which uses pulses of light to detect the location of nucleotide bases on the DNA strand.

Many universities do not have such advanced equipment, Udall said, so professors at BYU have greater opportunities for research and collaboration with other researchers throughout the country and abroad.

Students will also reap the benefits of the new machine and learn the skills necessary to keep up in a changing industry.

"What gets you into the best Ph.D. programs and the best jobs is having relevant experience and experience with the latest technology," Crandall said.

Those interested in using the machine can sign up with Ed Wilcox in the DNA sequencing center on the sixth floor of the Widtsoe Building. Wilcox works full time to assist faculty, staff, and students. The department chair does not anticipate a long wait to use the machine.

"The output on this machine is so great," Crandall said, "one run will likely give you enough data to work on for years."

The university also supplied matching funds for the grant from National Science Foundation's major research instrumentation program.

"I plan to work really hard to justify the award of this cutting-edge technology and show that it was worth it," Udall said.

More information on the Genome Sequencing System and the DNA Sequencing Center can be found at http://dnasc.byu.edu/index.asp.

Writer: Camille Metcalf

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Photo by iStockPhoto.com

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