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Virginia Bioinformatics Institute unveils new Genomic Research Laboratory

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 13, 2012 – Virginia Tech has opened the doors to a new breed of genomics laboratory -- the Genomics Research Laboratory at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. 

Providing a spectrum of services, the lab offers cutting-edge DNA sequencing equipment, project design assistance, analysis of results, and training in genomic analysis. The laboratory’s powerful, high-output equipment and staff bioinformaticians who help interpret the data, can sequence an entire human genome – three billion pairs of genes – in a day.

“I can’t think of anything that will have a greater effect on people’s lives than having the ability to sequence the human genome quickly and cheaply. We want to be at the forefront of that, analyzing and drawing real value out of genomic information,” said Stanley Hefta, the institute’s director of strategic planning and business development.

Among the many services the Genomic Research Laboratory will provide to users are upgrades in the laboratory's ability to analyze genomic information and state-of-the-art Illumina HiSeq and MiSeq technology. These systems can produce valuable genomic information within eight hours or less of input, depending on researcher needs. The institute’s staff bioinformaticians are available to help interpret and reduce the data to results and biological insights.

“With these new instruments we have solidly shifted the focus from acquiring the data -- that’s the easy part -- to interpreting and extracting knowledge from the data. That’s the hard part,” said Robert Settlage, director of bioinformatics.

The institute’s current core laboratory facility works closely with life science customers worldwide in industry and education, including more than 105 laboratories on campus. Primary users at Virginia Tech include the departments of plant pathology and weed sciences, forestry, animal and poultry sciences, biological sciences, biochemistry, and researchers at the institute.

“Recently, our research has been hindered by lack of more sophisticated sequencing technology especially the Illumina Hi-Seq platform, said Rami A. Dalloul, associate professor of animal and poultry science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Dalloul added, This deficiency resulted in outsourcing portions of major projects to other core facilities thus delaying generating new data. With [the institute’s] acquisition of the Hi-Seq and Mi-Seq Illumina platforms, along with the services provided by the Data Analysis Core, our project needs will be centralized and hopefully data generation and analysis will be better streamlined, affording us a more competitive edge in grant funding.”

Significant technology upgrades often prove that investing in newer technology can be the key to gaining funding and visibility for research. Noted Hefta, "When Virginia Tech brought together a consortium of universities including Michigan State, Roslin Institute, Utah State, and the University of Minnesota to sequence the turkey genome, the large U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that funded the research was awarded in part because the institute possessed the necessary sophisticated instrumentation. Many papers and collaborations, including grant submissions, resulted from the wisdom of making the investment in the best equipment. It is our highest priority to offer researchers at Virginia Tech access to best-in-class genomic research instrumentation and analysis."

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute was established in 2000 with an emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scaling the microbiome to the entire globe. It helps solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered at the Blacksburg campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high-performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.