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Columbia University has been designated a Center of Excellence in Genomic Science and will receive a three year, $11 million grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health. The research will emphasize genomic approaches to neuronal diversity and plasticity.

To understand why some people develop certain diseases and others do not, scientists must compare the DNA sequences of thousands of people. Currently, the process for sequencing an individual's genome is time consuming and extremely expensive – about $50 million. Scientists are working to develop new research tools with the goal of increasing accuracy and reducing the cost of sequencing an individual genome to $1,000.

"Columbia University is thrilled to receive the grant support to move to a new era in genome research and to develop novel genomic approaches for research in neurobiology," said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. "This research paradigm combines the strengths of the schools of engineering and arts and sciences with the health sciences – a strong example of the mission of the university to foster broad collaboration to pursue new discoveries and knowledge in the life sciences."

"The Columbia Center of Excellence in Genomic Science is one of the first projects to be funded by the NHGRI after the completion of the human genome project," says Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach, executive vice president and dean. "The Columbia team will bring all of the power of genomics and bioinformatics to bear on profound questions regarding brain function: What makes one nerve cell different from another? How do nerve cells change during learning and memory?"

Dr. Jingyue Ju, associate professor of chemical engineering and head of DNA Sequencing & Chemical Biology at the Columbia Genome Center, is the center's PI. He will lead the project with Dr. Eric Kandel, University Professor at Columbia and winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Dr. Leonid Moroz, assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Florida.

The researchers will develop three genomic technologies: massive parallel DNA sequencing to allow a genome to be sequenced on a chip, nanoscopic DNA arrays to measure how many genes are active at any given time in single cells, and real-time monitoring of multiple copies of genes and their movement using combinatorial fluorescence energy transfer tags and molecular beacons. The technologies will then be used to study genes and their functions in neurons related to learning and memory and to explore how genes regulate behavior. These studies will be carried out using the model organism Aplysia, a creature with relatively few nerve cells and clearly delineated behavioral circuitry compared with vertebrates. The technologies and biological discoveries made in the project will have broad impact and applications on the study of how genes regulate cellular and organism behavior on the scale from simpler nervous systems in invertebrates to the human brain.

"Massively parallel DNA sequencing promises to bring genetic analysis to the next level where we can envision, for example, the routine comparison on individual genome profiles, a key step for personalized medicine," says Dr. Ju.

For more information, visit the Columbia Genome Center web site at