The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced grants expected to total approximately $30 million to establish one new Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), and continue its support of the center at Stanford University.
Begun by NHGRI in 2001, the Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program assembles multi-institution, interdisciplinary teams dedicated to making critical advances in genomic research. The new center at DFCI in Boston will receive about $16 million and the center at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., will receive about $14 million.
“Our goal is to foster the development of creative collaborations that will use genomic tools and technologies to expand our understanding of human biology,” said NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “These new centers will explore some of the most important questions facing biology today. We look forward to seeing what exciting findings and innovative approaches arise from their efforts.”
At Stanford, the Center for Excellence in Genomic Science led by David M. Kingsley, Ph.D., will continue work done in the previous funding period using the stickleback fish as a model to explore the genomic mechanisms that have led to the diversity in the vertebrate group of animals.
To build a tool to study the genomic basis for such differences, the Stanford researchers will crossbreed different strains of stickleback fish to produce a genome-wide map. This map will be used to help uncover the genetic mechanisms that underlie the broad range of traits seen in the fish. Researchers will then search for specific genetic signatures that may have served as the basis of adaptive changes in size, shape, body function and behavior in many different fish populations around the world.
Preliminary data suggest that genetic mechanisms identified as the basis of adaptive changes in fish may be broadly predictive of similar mechanisms across a surprisingly large range of animals, including humans. Consequently, researchers will compare the stickleback genome to equivalent regions thought to be sites of adaptive change, also referred to as variation, in the human genome.
At the DFCI, the Center for Excellence in Genomic Science led by Marc Vidal, Ph.D., will test the hypothesis that both human genetic variations and pathogens, such as viruses, can influence cellular networks to cause disease.
Working with viral infections as a model system, the DFCI researchers will investigate in a comprehensive manner how genetic and environmental disruptions in complex cellular networks interact to cause disease. Specifically, the team will analyze network-level disruption and protein-protein interactions in cells caused by particular viruses and apply what is learned to genome-wide variation datasets for related human diseases.