DOE Joint Genome Institute Reaches Sequencing Milestone

November 6, 1998

By Ron Kolb,

Using Berkeley Lab as its celebratory center, the Department of Energy announced on Oct. 23 that its Joint Genome Institute (JGI), an integrated three-laboratory effort to help decipher the human genetic code, surpassed its ambitious goal of sequencing 20 million base pairs for fiscal year 1998.

Martha Krebs and Ari Patrinos
Martha Krebs, director of DOE's Office of Energy Research,and Ari Patrinos,  director of DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Sciences, were among the participants at the Joint Genome Institute celebration held at Berkeley Lab

"This achievement marks an unprecedented ten-fold increase in production output over the previous year," Martha Krebs, the DOE's director of the Office of Energy Research, told an assembled group of JGI staffers and news media at the Genome Sciences Building (84). "With this milestone, the JGI rises to the third position worldwide in terms of its total contribution of human DNA sequence to public databases, and signals great promise for completion of the entire project in five years."

Krebs called the program's progress over one year "remarkable." Along with DOE's Ari Patrinos, director of the Office of Biological and Environmental Sciences, she praised the JGI for having met and exceeded "what were very ambitious goals we set for it. It demonstrates the power, not only of the individual laboratories, but of what can happen when they link together as a system."

The JGI, established in 1996, is a consortium of scientists, engineers and support staff from the Berkeley, Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories. The JGI has assumed a key role in the international effort to determine all three billion base pairs ("letters") that comprise the human genome. This worldwide project, the largest biological undertaking in history, promises untold opportunities to understand the basic molecular underpinnings of life and to improve human health.

"What we're doing here will change the way biology is being turned out," Krebs added. "We're very proud of the role DOE has played, and honored to celebrate the completion of this first part of the project."

During its first full year of operation, the JGI successfully sequenced over 20 million base pairs. Thanks to improved technologies (some developed by JGI researchers) and streamlining techniques, the JGI has been able to reach rates of over 2.5 million base pairs per month. The JGI's sequencing goal for 1999 is 70 million high-quality bases--30 million finished bases and 40 million "draft" bases.

Thus far, the international human genome sequencing effort has cracked only about seven percent of the genome's three billion letters, or 195 million bases. An accelerated five-year plan for the U.S. Human Genome Program calls for the completion of the first high-quality set of human genome sequences by 2003, two years ahead of the original schedule.

The Joint Genome Institute will begin moving into its new Walnut Creek operations center, the Production Sequencing Facility (PSF), in November. The PSF will provide 56,600 square feet of laboratory and office space, accommodating at its capacity 200 researchers working in three shifts around the clock.