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New national genome center launched

A new UK national genome centre is being officially opened today (3 July) by Nobel Laureate and genome pioneer Prof Sir John Sulston and the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk.

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will further the UK's capacity in genomics - the science of understanding the genetic makeup of organisms and the genetic differences that exist between individuals. This knowledge can then be used for developments that include the production of new antibiotics to fight 'superbugs', breeding of new crops with increased tolerance of drought, and the breeding of livestock better able to resist emerging exotic disease. TGAC will underpin these advances as well as making a significant contribution to economic development.

TGAC has been established in Norwich by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in partnership with regional economic development partners The East of England Development Agency (EEDA), Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council, Norwich City Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership. The centre represents an investment by all the partners in the capital infrastructure of 13.5M.

Speaking about the opening, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson said: "The UK is a world leader in genomics, which is increasingly essential to understanding how to tackle the challenges we face in food security, the development of eco-friendly fuels and fighting superbugs.

"This project goes to show that partnership is the key to success - the new centre will help to advance vital research as well as stimulate economic development and generate new jobs."

TGAC science will concentrate on understanding the genomes of economically and socially important plants, animals and microbes. The exact projects that TGAC will initially work on will be decided by an independent advisory board but candidates include:

  • Helping to replace petrol with eco-friendly bioenergy. By sequencing the genome of perennial ryegrass, an important source of energy for livestock, scientists will gain the knowledge to increase the crop's yield while reducing fertiliser requirements making sustainable bioenergy a real option
  • Protecting livestock from exotic diseases. Emerging exotic diseases pose a serious threat to UK livestock. A major outbreak would threaten farmers' livelihoods, increase meat and diary prices for consumers and put animal welfare at risk. Understanding the genomes of livestock such as sheep will help breeders raise animals resistant to disease.
  • Producing more nutritious fruit and vegetables. Certain fruit and vegetables contain beneficial compounds that have been associated with reduced incidence of some cancers. Better understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying the synthesis of these compounds could allow the breeding of, for example, tomatoes with higher amounts of antioxidants.

The sequencing of these and other genomes will create a huge amount of data. The successful handling and interpretation of the data will be critical to TGAC fulfilling its potential. To achieve this, TGAC will become a national centre of excellence in bioinformatics the application of computer science and statistical analysis to biological research.

A key aim for TGAC is to combine world-class genome science with an innovation programme that aims to benefit the regional and national economy. TGAC will utilise its own discoveries to maximise economic and social impact and is also committed to making cutting edge facilities available to UK industry. As part of the Norwich Research Park, TGAC will be a key player in the delivery of the Park's new vision which aims to create hundreds of new, high-value jobs.

Dr Jane Rogers, Director of TGAC, said: "The Genome Analysis Centre will give the UK a lead in the sequencing of the genomes of plants, animals and microbes. By concentrating on specific organisms and problems we will develop an understanding of the genetic makeup of economically important crops and livestock animals. In addition, the genomic analysis of microbes will be a major focus, not only because they infect both animals and plants, but because they are already a source of drugs for the treatment of bacterial and fungal infections and therefore they have the potential to provide new, superbug beating antibiotics."


Contact: Matt Goode
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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