NIH funds genome scientist in next stage of national study

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NIH funds genome scientist in next stage of national study

Investigator aims to validate predictions about how gene expression is regulated in different cell types
Brian Donohue

A UW Medicine genome scientist is among about three dozen nationwide whose labs will be funded in continuing U.S. efforts to identify the functional elements of the human genome.

The National Human Genome Research Institute today announced its intent to commit $31.5 million in fiscal year 2017 to academic research centers. The funding represents the next stage of Project ENCODE, started in 2003 to catalog all human genes and their control mechanisms.

Jay Shendure is a UW Medicine genome scientist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
picture of Jay Shendure, a UW Medicine genome scientist.

Jay Shendure, professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, will share an award with Nadav Ahituv of the University of California, San Francisco. They expect to split $1.35 million in FY17, and the potential exists for additional funding over the next two to three years, depending on Congressional budget appropriations. 

“Our grant is aimed at validating tens of thousands of the predictions made by earlier ENCODE efforts,” said Shendure, who's also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This validation is key to understanding how specific parts of the genome, called ‘enhancers,’ regulate the expression of genes in different kinds of cells. A long collaboration between our groups at UW and UCSF led us to the validation strategies that we will pursue."

Different centers are managing different parts of the project. UW and UCSF are two of seven centers working to shed light on how functional elements contribute to gene regulation in a variety of cell types. Other centers are mapping the locations of genes and regulatory elements within the genome, and coordinating and analyzing the data-heavy computations.

The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, sequenced all 3 billion “letters,” or base pairs, in the human genome. Since then scientists have worked to interpret the function of those base pairs as well as the regulators in the genome's less-understood "dark matter."

More than 1,600 published scientific studies have used ENCODE data or tools. A catalog of genomic information could be used in a variety of research projects, from generating hypotheses about what goes wrong in specific diseases to understanding how different parts of the body use the same genome sequence to make cells with specialized functions, for example.

Read the National Human Genome Research Instiute news feature and the National Institutes of Health news release.