WSU among first in nation with DNA sequencer

Video by Matt Haugen, WSU News 
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University is among the first in the country to acquire a DNA sequencing machine that will let researchers across the university assemble and characterize genomes with dramatically improved speed and accuracy. The technology promises to improve researchers’ understanding of the genetic blueprints of plants and animals and open new avenues for fighting diseases and improving the productivity of crops.
Genomicist Amit Dhingra is featured
on a tongue-in-cheek magazine
cover fashioned by student Ken
Dorrance. Dhingra and other WSU
researchers now have access to one
of the fastest, most powerful DNA
sequencing machines in the world.


“This catapults our faculty into a unique and enviable position,” said Howard Grimes, vice president of research, whose office funded the $774,000 machine. “We expect this to drive our research programs into new territory extraordinarily quickly.”
Grimes said WSU is the nation’s first agriculture-veterinary medicine university in the country to acquire the Pacific Biosciences technology, which is up and running in the WSU Laboratory for Biotechnology and Bioanalysis.
The PacBio RS single molecule real time sequencer is effectively “a big laser with a really good camera,” illuminating and identifying thousands of a DNA molecule’s individual nucleotides at a time, said Derek Pouchnik, lab director. By decoding long, accurate sections of DNA that can later be pieced together, it will help researchers fathom “the cast of characters in a cell,” said Mark Wildung, senior scientific assistant in the lab.
“It’s hard to work with an organism anymore without understanding the genome,” he said.
Possible applications include:
  • Sequencing the genomes of crops with an eye toward isolating genes responsible for disease resistance, greater productivity or drought tolerance in an era of warming climates.
  • Decoding the genes of germs central to infectious diseases.
  • Finding enzymes that fungi use to crack cellulose, a major area of focus in developing a cost-effective biofuel from woody plants.
Horticultural genomicist Amit Dhingra, who led a team that in 2010 published the genome of the golden delicious apple, said the PacBio machine’s large gene sequences will help researchers piece together the genomic puzzle more efficiently. It also will complement other sequencing technologies at WSU.
Already, he said, researchers are using the equipment to get new genetic information about apples, pears, sweet cherries and a plant that Regents Professor Gerry Edwards has found is particularly adept at photosynthesis.
With a full suite of sequencing technology, said Dhingra, “we will have a much clearer image of what novel genes underlie the unique biology of these plants. Then we can begin to find solutions to how to make pears productive sooner and how to make our crops fix carbon more efficiently to address burgeoning food and fuel demands.”

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