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Launch of Pilot Project to Identify All Functional Elements in Human DNA

ENCODE Project Will Clear Path for Mining Genomic Sequence

BETHESDA, Md., March 4, 2003 - A new project, sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), with the long-term goal of creating a comprehensive encyclopedia of functional elements encoded in the human DNA sequence will move one step closer to realization at a March 7 meeting.

Called the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE), the project's eventual goal is to identify and precisely locate all of the protein-coding genes, non-protein coding genes and other sequence-based functional elements contained in the human DNA sequence. Creating this monumental reference work will help scientists mine and fully utilize the human sequence, gain a deeper understanding of human biology, predict potential disease risk and stimulate the development of new strategies for the prevention and treatment of disease.

To implement the initial pilot phase of the ENCODE project, the NHGRI recently released two Requests for Applications (RFAs). From 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Friday, March 7, the institute will host a public information session for grant applicants and other potential participants at the Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

In the pilot, participants will work cooperatively to develop efficient, high-throughput methods for rigorously and fully analyzing a defined set of target regions comprising approximately 1 percent of the human genome. Analysis of this first 30 megabases (Mb) of human genome sequence will allow the project participants to test and compare a variety of existing and new technologies to find the functional elements in human DNA.

The first RFA addresses the large-scale application of existing technologies. Through this RFA, NHGRI will offer approximately $10 million in funding for participating scientists to test current computational and experimental approaches for identifying functional elements in DNA. Another aspect of the ENCODE pilot project will address the technological gaps in the ability of current methods to fully annotate genomic sequence. The second RFA, in which NHGRI will invest approximately $2 million, will support the development of new technologies to fill those gaps, looking particularly for methods that can find new classes of functional elements. The outcomes of both of these undertakings will set a clear path for scaling up this effort to efficiently and effectively characterize the entire human genome in detail.

As has been the case with the public effort to sequence the human genome, the data from the ENCODE project will be collected and stored in a project database that will be freely available to the entire scientific community.

The ENCODE pilot project is being implemented as a consortium effort because the wide range of technologies that need to be tested and developed is well beyond the scope of any single group to accomplish. Furthermore, in the ENCODE project, NHGRI expects to replicate the synergism that has so successfully marked earlier collective efforts to solve major problems in genomics. As the previous mapping and sequencing efforts have done, the ENCODE project is expected to efficiently improve access to information, resources, ideas and expertise, as well as to benefit the entire community of researchers interested in mining genomic sequence.

For more information about the ENCODE project, visit the ENCODE Web page.

NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH, which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The NHGRI Division of Extramural Research supports grants for research and for training and career development at sites nationwide. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at its Web site, www.genome.gov.

Geoff Spencer
Phone: (301) 402-0911

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Last updated: September 01, 2006