The summer of 2012 is set to go down as one of the driest and worst years for US farmers, but it's proving to be an excellent season for fruit science, especially at the University of Arizona, Tucson. In June we saw the sequencing of the tomato genome (technically a fruit), which was a breakthrough in genetics research. The Arizona Genomics Institute has now cracked another complex code: the genome of the banana.
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Remember the character of Pigpen in the comic strip Peanuts? He walked around within a cloud of dust and dirt. Well, according to University of California Davis microbiologist Jonathan Eisen, we all live within our own aura of microbes --10 times as many microbial cells as human cells!--and that's probably a very good thing for our health. It sounds counterintuitive at first, but not all microbes are bad. We've come to realize intestinal biota are good for digestion and colon health (among other things), but the outside of our bodies is also host to vast colonies of microbes that are increasingly proving to be vital cohorts of our immune system.
The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is a branch of the NIH, and they administer the ENCODE project, which stands for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements. Established in 2003, the goal of ENCODE is to create a comprehensive catalog of functional genomic elements. Towards that end, they have just awarded a further $10.5M in grants to 10 research institutions with investigators working in three main areas:
The 1000 Genomes Project is an international genomic research and data collection effort that has produced "a deep catalog of human genetic variation" for public research use. Now, thanks to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the White House's recently-announced Big Data Research and Development Initiative, the 1000 Genomes data is available gratis on the AWS cloud. In reality, there are over 1700 genome profiles in the demographically-diverse study, and all that data takes up about 200 terabytes of memory, according to a New York Times article on the cloud bonanza. So even though researchers could download the data free to their own computers from 1000 Genomes directly before, it's something you really don't want to do, even if you have that kind of memory (re: 200TB). Instead, you'll likely be better off accessing the data through AMS and paying them to crunch numbers for you, which probably explains why AWS has decided to engage in this bit of philanthropy. Future profit, plus their preeminence as a computational resource in the brave new world of Big Data.
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As early as February of 2012, project organizers plan on opening the New York Genome Center, a new center for genomics and medicine, in Manhattan. NYGC’s collaborating members include a number of public and private contributors, among them 11 academic institutions, private philanthropists, technology collaborators, the New York City Economic Corporation and the New York City Investment Fund. In total, contributing members have donated $120 million to the project so far.