Idaho Keeps Pace in Genetic Research Arms Race

Thursday, July 30 2009

July 30, 2009

Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – It took scientists around the world more than a decade to sequence and map the human genome. Now, scientists at the University of Idaho could sequence it in a matter of weeks.

Utilizing funds received from a National Institutes of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant, the University of Idaho recently invested $600,000 into a GS FLX Titanium Series pyrosequencing machine. Produced by 454 Life Sciences, a Roche Company, the DNA decoder will unlock doors in biological research scientists could only dream of opening a few years ago.

“This is going to be pretty widely used,” said Larry Forney, director of the Initiative for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies (IBEST), who already has caught wind of proposals to sequence the genome of a nematode that infects potatoes, the trout genome and chloroplasts in plants from different populations in different areas. “I definitely expect people to jump on board.”

Pyrosequencing works by preparing a slide with 600,000 miniature wells, each about the diameter of the thinnest human hair. Each well is loaded with a one-sided strain of DNA up to 500 nucleotides long. Nucleotides are the fundamental building blocks of DNA. The four types – adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine – bind in very specific pairs. That is, adenine and thymine bind only to each other, as do guanine and cytosine.

The machine uses this fact by introducing one type of nucleotide to the prepared slide at a time. If it binds with the next open nucleotide in the sequence, a chemical reaction causes a flash of light, which is captured by a camera. By cycling through each of the four nucleotides and repeating this process over and over, computer software can use the photos to determine the exact sequence of DNA.

The pyrosequencer joins an impressive amount of processing power already in place at the IBEST Bioinformatics Core. Also via COBRE grants, the core recently doubled its processing power and has plans to expand further in the near future.

Together, these machines make the University of Idaho a one-stop research center for emerging genetic research.

“We’ve entered a sort of arms race in sequencing technology,” said Forney. “Because it’s advancing at an exponential pace, you also have to increase your computational ability. It costs a lot of money to do this, but it puts you at the leading edge.”
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit  

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,  

Note to Media: A visual representation of the pyrosequencing process can be viewed at  

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit