Uncle Sam to award $20M for work on genomic data informatics

The U.S. government wants to equip researchers outside of major DNA sequencing centers with software to analyze genome data, and Uncle Sam has agreed to pony up $20 million to achieve this goal as part of a four-year plan to invest $416 million into various sequencing projects, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) said Tuesday.

Now that sequencing DNA has become cheaper and faster than in years past, researchers now have lots of data from sequencing studies to sift through for answers about the genetic underpinnings of diseases. Major sequencing centers have staffs of bioinformatics experts and IT teams to aid in the analysis of the complex sequencing data, but small labs don't have the same luxuries. For researchers at those small operations, the NHGRI's plan calls for investing in adapting existing software for genome data analysis to make informatics tools user-friendly.

"As the falling cost of DNA sequencing technology has increasingly allowed small laboratories to own and operate their own instruments, it has become clear that data analysis is now the major challenge for the field," the NHGRI stated. "Many sequence analysis tools have been developed, but their use is too often limited because they require sophisticated or expert skills to install and use."

The institute, which is part of the NIH, plans to start making awards for informatics development in early fiscal 2012 and to tap multiple funding sources such as the Small Business Innovation Research grant program and cooperative agreements. "What we're funding now will empower and advance the field in a fashion that will benefit the private sector's investment in these areas," NHGRI director Eric Green said, as quoted by Bio-IT World.

Some of the companies already working on products to put analysis tools for genomic data into the hands of scientists include PerkinElmer's ($PKI) Geospiza, DNAnexus and GenomeQuest. With lots of labs seeking such tools, the genomic data analysis field has received lots of attention from investors and large companies as of late. For example, Google Ventures, the VC unit of the Internet giant, took a lead role in DNAnexus' second-round financing announced in October.

- here's the NHGRI's release
- check out Bio-IT World's article