"The CEGS program brings together teams of investigators from different disciplines to encourage innovation and lay the groundwork for new genomics approaches to the study of human biology and disease," said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "The institute fosters these extraordinary collaborations because we believe they will produce important and surprising insights into genomics."
NHGRI awarded the first three CEGS grants in the fall of 2001, two to the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., and a third to Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Information on the earlier grants can be found at http://www.genome.gov/page.cfm?pageID=10002207.
For the first new CEGS, William S. Talbot, Ph.D., at Stanford University, leads a team examining the genomic basis of vertebrate diversity, through experimentation with two model organisms, the three-spine stickleback and the zebrafish. The research will try to explain how changes at the genetic level result in the rich variety of designs among vertebrates.
The three-spine stickleback is a fish known for its tremendous variability in size, physiology, and behavior. Although this variability resulted in the classification of distinct stickleback populations as different species, sticklebacks from different groups can be crossbred in the laboratory and produce fertile offspring. A genetic analysis of the progeny can then pinpoint the chromosomal regions responsible for the parental diversity. After identifying genes of interest in the stickleback, Dr. Talbot's group will study the equivalent genes in zebrafish models to assess their function. Their research into the genetic changes behind vertebrate diversity will ultimately contribute to a deeper understanding of the changes in genomes that underlie the evolution of form, physiology and behavior, with potentially major implications for our understanding of human biology.
Talbot, an associate professor of developmental biology in the medical school, will collaborate with David M. Kingsley, Ph.D., associate professor of developmental biology, and Richard M. Myers, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the department of genetics at the School of Medicine.
The second new CEGS grant was awarded to Roger Brent, Ph.D., scientific director and president of the Molecular Sciences Institute (MSI) in Berkeley, Calif. His group of physicists, mathematicians, chemists, engineers, computer scientists, and biologists includes colleagues from MSI as well as the California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Brent's group will study how cells interpret and relay information. The team will attempt to develop computer models that can predict the behavior of intra-cellular signaling pathways, the information highways of the cell. They will use a signal transduction pathway of the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that responds to the mating pheromone alpha factor as a model for their experiments.
The MSI group plans to create new genomic and computational technologies for single-cell monitoring that are applicable to the study of other organisms, including humans. Their ultimate goal is to translate their findings on intra-cellular signaling into new treatments for disease.
NHGRI anticipates making a total of approximately ten CEGS awards. The next application receipt date is October 1, 2002, for CEGS planning (P20) grants and June 2, 2003 for center (P50) grants.