Press Release

Venter Institute to Sequence More Than 100 Key Marine Microbes in One Year

Data To Help Scientists Study Biodiversity, Ecology, Evolution, and Health

(February 24, 2005) ROCKVILLE, MD -- The J. Craig Venter Institute will sequence the genomes of more than 100 of the key marine microbes stored in culture collections around the world. Analyzing these genomes will help scientists understand the chemical transformations that occur within the major biogeochemical cycles vital to life.  The data will also provide a baseline for interpreting the millions of new genes being discovered by the Sorcerer II Expedition (Sorcerer2expedition.org), also led by the Venter Institute.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will announce today the sequence completion of the project's first organism, Erythrobacter litoralis at the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography's annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. This organism belongs to a class of bacteria that is abundant in the ocean, but whose function is little understood. The bacterium was found in the Sargasso Sea by Stephen Giovannoni of Oregon State University.

The Venter Institute received an $8.9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support a vastly expanded reference collection of genomic analyses of marine microbes.  The microbes that the Venter Institute is sequencing have all been isolated from the world's oceans and then grown in the laboratories of the many collaborating researchers. Data about their genetic make-up will help scientists understand the functions that microbes play in the ecology of the oceans. 

These data will also be invaluable for studying the vast majority of microbes that cannot be grown in laboratories, such as those collected by the Sorcerer II Expedition, the Venter Institute's global oceanographic voyage that extends what is known about microbial biodiversity in marine and terrestrial environments.

"This project allows us to go from fewer than ten completely sequenced ocean microbes to well over 100 in only one year," said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., president of the Venter Institute. "By analyzing the whole genomes of this large number of carefully selected microbes, we will greatly increase our understanding of the invisible world of marine microbes."

"The Marine Microbe Genome Project will generate new knowledge about the composition, function, and ecological role of microbial communities that is critical to understand the health and productivity of the ocean," said Lita Proctor, Sr. Program Officer of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. "We look forward to the data from the Venter Institute because it will provide a genome reference collection to underpin and inform ongoing study of the ocean's basic biological and chemical processes."

Marine microbiologists worldwide nominated the key strains based on scientific criteria, geography, and potential biological interest. Then, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation committee of distinguished marine microbial ecologists selected the key species for in-depth sequencing from the many hundreds of species in existing culture collections. The committee is co-chaired by Edward Delong at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mary Anne Moran at the University of Georgia. Other members include Stephen Giovannoni, Oregon State University; Daniel Vaulot, Station Biologique de Roscoff, France; and Jonathan Zehr, University of California, Santa Cruz.

All results of the genomic analysis will be released into the public domain through the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the home of Genbank, at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The J. Craig Venter Institute is a not-for-profit research institute dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics; the understanding of its implications for society; and the communication of those results to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. Founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., the institute is home to approximately 200 staff and scientists with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/informatics, high-throughput DNA sequencing, information technology, and genomic and environmental policy research. The institute's areas of scientific focus include: genomic medicine with an emphasis on cancer genomics and human genome resequencing and analysis; environmental genomic analysis with an emphasis on microbial biodiversity, ecology, and evolution; use of molecular and genomic methods to develop biological sources of clean energy; synthetic genome development; and policy research on the ethical, legal, and economic issues associated with genomic science and technology.  The Venter Institute is a 501 (c) (3) organization.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in September 2000 to create positive outcomes for future generations. The Foundation funds outcome-based grants and initiatives to achieve significant and measurable results. Grantmaking supports the Foundation's principal areas of interest: global environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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