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DNA sequencing lab established

By Jeffrey S. Douglas

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 07 - October 8, 1998

A tool vital in biotechnology is now more readily available to Virginia Tech researchers.
A University DNA Sequencing Facility has been established in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases on Price's Fork Road.
Funded by a university ASPIRES grant, contributions from the VMRCVM and the Fralin Biotechnology Center, the laboratory is staffed and equipped to provide reliable and prompt DNA-sequencing services for a variety of investigators in the life sciences, according to Stephen Boyle, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.
"We are very excited about putting this laboratory on line for the university community," Boyle said. "The laboratory offers the kind of cost-effective, high-throughput services that are required for complete genomic analysis."

Demand for such service is soaring, said Boyle, who is working closely with a number of biotechnology initiatives under way at the university. While researchers and graduate students in different fields are becoming more familiar with sequencing technology, not everyone has the training and experience to do it properly.

"Our experience is that a significant part of DNA sequencing is still an art form and even though different people may use the same machine, they are likely to get different results, both quantitatively and qualitatively," Boyle said. A centralized facility operated by a specially trained staff can save costs in terms of time, reagents and equipment breakdown and increase quality control by reducing operator error.
To develop genetically engineered improvements in everything from food products to medicine, scientists must first acquire an accurate profile of a substance's molecular structure.
The DNA sequencer allows them to do precisely that, Boyle said. Once an investigator understands how the double helical base pairs of adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) combine to form a structure's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), they can devise experimental approaches for creating the desired alterations.
The University DNA Sequencing Laboratory includes twin Pharmacia Biotech ALFexpress sequencers, each capable of generating and evaluating 5,000-to-10,000 base pairs per run. A single computer-based control unit runs each unit independently.
The manager hired to operate the laboratory is Lee Weigt. Weigt has 10 years previous experience managing DNA Sequencing Facilities for the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Weigt has been specially trained by Pharmacia personnel in the operation of the new equipment, Boyle said.
A web site (http://www.vetmed.vt.edu/CMMID/DNA/index.htm) has been established to provide researchers with a convenient method for checking on the status of samples and results and providing information about the facility.
While the facility has been chartered to serve clients at the university and the Corporate Research Center, it may eventually offer contract services for public and private laboratories outside the university, Boyle said.