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Thursday, December 9, 2021

New UC Davis genome center planned for Sacramento campus

A new genome sequencing facility is being planned at UC Davis’ Health System Campus in Sacramento through the university’s recent partnership with the Beijing Genomics Institute Americas (BGI).

The new facility will focus on improving research in human and animal health, agriculture and environmental initiatives through genome sequencing. Last week a signing ceremony was held for the new partnership at the UC Davis MIND Institute of Sacramento.

“There is a big revolution happening in biology particularly driven by DNA sequencing,” said Professor Richard Michelmore, director of the UC Davis Genome Center. “It’s now getting very easy to generate vast amounts of DNA sequence data and it’s changing the face of biology, and eventually going to change the face of society.”

Genomics is a discipline within the genetics field that involves the study of organism’s genomes. Fine scale genetic mapping in genomics requires enormous computing power.

“These machines are game changers,” Michelmore said, referring to the HiSeq 2000, the state-of-the-art genetic sequencing machines that are going to be used in the facility. “We’re going to be swamped with information.”

One HiSeq 2000 is able to generate as much DNA sequence as was achieved in the entire world in 2009, all in less than four days.

BGI, the world’s largest genomic institute, possesses enough HiSeq sequencers to generate this information in no more than an hour.

“From BGI’s standpoint, UC Davis is an attractive research partner because it already has well regarded schools and research programs that are focused on veterinary medicine, agriculture and human medicine; all areas of interest for BGI,” said BGI Americas researcher Hao Zhang in an e-mail interview.

UC Davis is going to take on the large task of interpreting the information that is going to be churned out of the new facility.

“There is a flow from data to knowledge, to society benefit,” Michelmore said. “Data itself isn’t really valuable, you have to create knowledge and add value. There is going to be a tremendous opportunity for students to process this data.”

Partnership with BGI saves UC Davis from taking on the full cost of the new facility.

“The cost of renovating the space will be met 50-50 by UC Davis and BGI,” said UC Davis News Service writer Andy Fell.

The price tag on a HiSeq 2000 is around $600,000 per unit. UC Davis currently is in possession of only one machine. To run a single experiment on the machine at the university takes roughly 10 to 14 days.

The facility has the potential to bring health care to all new levels through genome sequencing. In the near future, normal medical practice could include looking at one’s individual DNA sequence in order to determine the diagnosis of a disease or ailment.

“As a campus we need to adapt to this new reality,” Michelmore said. “We need to educate the future decision makers.”

MAX RUSSER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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