The Great Genomics World Tour Continues

Writing en route to Chicago on United Airlines 949, I am now off on the next leg of my great genomics world tour! I am the grateful recipient of £3,000 of Wellcome Trust money to visit several genome centres worldwide. The main aim of the trip is to gather as much information about the actual process of genome sequencing in order to help us set up a next-generation sequencing facility back in Birmingham.

First stop is Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. There is a bit of nostalgia for me as an internet-nerd as I realise that this is “wustl.edu” – one of the very first internet resources I used when I first got my Amiga on the Internet back in 1993 when I was just 14 years old! This was an FTP site with an Aminet mirror and also a Gopher site – an early hypertext protocol predating the WWW. As a young man I imagined places advanced enough to have permanent Internet connections as something a bit akin to the Wintermute computer network in William Gibson’s Necromancer (which I was reading at the time), so it will be hard to suppress my geek genes when I get there.

Washington University are also pioneers when it comes to genomic sequencing. My host, George Weinstock oversees their genome centre and has presided over an investment in Solexa sequencing technology with over 50 machines now running in parallel. A single Solexa machine can produce around 2 gigabases of sequencing data in a single run. Therefore, this means conservatively 25,000 E. coli genomes a week, or 148 an hour or more than 2 a minute! This also means a huge amount of data to process, store and make sense of. The genomics facility itself has invested over $30m in their IT infrastructure, with a dedicated data centre.

All this has got my geek-juices well and truly flowing, so I am extremely keen to see their setup and talk to the guys there that run the machines and tackle the informatics. Like my previous blog entries, I will try and keep the entries regularly updated and interesting for other genomics geeks, tech nerds, friends, food lovers like myself and family, which is a diverse audience, but I like a challenge!

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