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Microbial Sequencing Center established at Broad Institute

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The MIT-affiliated Broad Institute has signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to create a new Microbial Sequencing Center.

The center will sequence the genomes of more than 100 organisms--including fungi, viruses, bacteria, parasites and invertebrate vectors of disease--that are considered agents of bioterrorism and/or responsible for emerging and re-emerging diseases. The sequencing will involve only non-hazardous DNA samples.

"In terms of world health, infectious disease is still the dominant cause of mortality. Even in developed countries, we're battling newly emerging infectious diseases and the spread of drug resistance in previously well-controlled pathogens," said Bruce Birren, director of the new center and co-director of Broad's Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program. "Sadly, we also face the very real threat of bioterrorism. Genome sequencing can arm us with the information we need to combat these threats."

Birren and colleagues, who helped sequence and analyze the human genome, are eager to apply genomic technology to the exploration of human pathogens. "It's amazing that within days we can now sequence entire genomes and begin to understand these devastating pathogens," said Birren. "These sequences will help fill a huge gap in understanding these organisms and the diseases they cause by equipping investigators with the information they need to explore transmissibility, immunogenicity, virulence and drug resistance."

"This is an exciting mission for the sequencing center at Broad, which pioneered the sequencing and analysis of genomes," said Gerald Fink, founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the American Cancer Society Professor of Genetics at MIT.

This initiative also reflects the Broad's mission to connect the wider scientific and medical community to the power of genomic technology. To this end, Broad scientists have been working with infectious disease researchers to develop proposals for naming candidate organisms for genome sequencing. Once an organism is selected for sequencing, Broad scientists will work with the research community to obtain the non-hazardous DNA samples to be used by the center.

The NIAID is encouraging interested investigators to submit white papers for projects to be carried out at the Broad or the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., which also received NIAID support for a microbial sequencing center.

The Broad (rhymes with "code") Institute is a research collaboration of MIT, Harvard University and affiliated hospitals and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Its mission is to propel genomic research by creating comprehensive tools for genomic medicine and making them available to scientists worldwide.

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