Meeting Addresses Prioritization of DNA Genome Sequencing in Animals

In October 2002, a meeting of the Interagency Working Group for domestic animal genome sequencing was convened at the USDA Whitten Building in Washington, D.C. to discuss prioritization of domestic animal species for DNA genome sequencing. That

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In October 2002, a meeting of the Interagency Working Group for domestic animal genome sequencing was convened at the USDA Whitten Building in Washington, D.C. to discuss prioritization of domestic animal species for DNA genome sequencing. That such a meeting might take place was unthinkable only five or six years ago and reflects the dramatic accomplishments that recently resulted in the completion of the DNA sequence of each of the 23 human chromosomes.
The touchstone for this story occurred in February of 2000, when the highly respected scientific journals Nature and Science simultaneously announced the completion of the sequencing of the entire 3 billion letters of DNA that is the genetic blueprint for humans. In scope, complexity and expense, the accomplishment of the Human Genome Project has been likened to NASA’s landing of a man on the moon. And like the lunar landing, the scientific knowledge gained from the Human Genome Project will have innumerable spinoffs that will change our concepts of biology and have profound implications for management of domestic animals.

The Human Genome Project had its inception in 1986 in the form of a draft proposal circulated for comment among a select group of scientists and work was formally started in 1990. The estimated cost of the project was 5 billion dollars and estimated time to completion was 15 years. That the project was completed five years ahead of schedule and approximately one billion dollars under budget reflects the spectacular advances made in DNA sequencing technology, automation, robotics, and computer software development. Almost from its inception, the Human Genome Project benefited from significant advancements in technology and information management so that large-scale DNA sequencing projects in 2002 bear little resemblance to the processes used in 1990. Hand in hand with technological advancements and automation came a dramatic decrease in the time and cost of DNA sequencing. The estimated time for one of the genome sequencing centers (there are three centers in the U.S.) to sequence a mammalian genome in 2003 will be about one year at a cost less than 1% of the cost of sequencing in 1990.

The efficiency and economy of modern DNA sequencing prompted the scientific community to propose the sequencing of numerous other species under the National Human Genome Research Institute’s “Model Organisms” program. Selected organisms must provide relevant biological information for human biomedical research and be supported by a research community sufficient to manage and utilize the vast amount of DNA sequence information. Key research species (fruit fly, mouse, and rat) and many important species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses were selected in the early stages and DNA sequences of these genomes have been or will soon be completed.

The Model Organisms program has been expanded to include other species, including animals of significant economic importance; hence the meeting of the Interagency Working Group in Washington last month. Representatives from each of the sequencing centers, from federal agencies that support genome sequencing (NIH, DOE, NSF, OTA, USDA) and about 25 individuals from universities, government laboratories, and the private sector were present. Spirited discussions centered on the scientific necessity for additional genome sequencing and prioritization of species of domestic animals to be selected for DNA sequencing. Several species (cow, dog, and honey bee) appeared to have an inside tract to genome sequencing through preliminary proposals submitted as white papers to the scientific advisory board of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Proponents of swine, cats, and poultry were expected to submit white papers this fall

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Written by:

Loren Skow, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. His research involves molecular genetic techniques and comparative genomics of hoofed mammals, especially genes involved in immunity and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

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