Over the last two decades, revolutionary improvements in DNA sequencing technology have made it faster, more accurate, and much cheaper. We are now able to sequence up to 10 trillion DNA letters in just one month. I harness these technological advancements to assemble genomes for a variety of organisms and probe the genetic basis of neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia, better understand cancer progression and understand the complex structures of the genomes of higher plants.
The insights of W. Richard McCombie and colleagues have led to the introduction and optimization of novel methods of high-throughput genome sequencing. His team has made it possible to catalog variation among individual organisms in a way that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. They have brought online a new generation of Illumina sequencers and optimized their function to a level at which eight to 10 trillion DNA bases can be sequenced in a month. McCombie’s team has been involved in international efforts culminating in genome sequences for maize, rice, bread wheat—three of the world’s most important food crops. They have also had an important role in projects to sequence the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana (the first plant genome sequence), the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, as well as the human genome and other important genomes. McCombie’s group is currently involved in several important projects to resequence genes in patient samples that are of special interest to human health, including DISC1 (a strong candidate gene for schizophrenia), looking for genetic variants implicated in bipolar illness and major recurrent depression. They are also looking for genes, that contribute to cancer progression using whole genome sequencing or a method called exome sequencing which they developed with Greg Hannon to look at mutations in the regions of the genome that code for proteins.
An essay from the President: Biology for the planet
May 16, 2019
As we advance toward the middle of the twenty-first century, humanity faces an existential challenge: figuring out how to feed the world’s rapidly growing population in the face of climate change and the increasingly limited availability of key nutrients and suitable land for farming. We need solutions that are local, national and global to increase...
Genomes, justice, and the journey here
September 15, 2018
Base Pairs podcast Mail-order genetic testing—more accurately known as genotyping—has become a growing trend. Simply spit into a tube, and companies claim they can tell you about where your family comes from, what conditions and illnesses you might be predisposed to, and what your family tree looks like. One of the more surprising uses of...
Massive genome havoc in breast cancer is revealed
July 12, 2018
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — In cancer cells, genetic errors wreak havoc. Misspelled genes, as well as structural variations—larger-scale rearrangements of DNA that can encompass large chunks of chromosomes—disturb carefully balanced mechanisms that have evolved to regulate cell growth. Genes that are normally silent are massively activated and mutant proteins are formed. These and other...
Portrait of a Neuroscience Powerhouse
April 27, 2018
At noon every Tuesday from September through June, scenes from a revolution in neuroscience are playing out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Week after week, over 100 scientists cram themselves into a ground-floor meeting room in the Beckman Laboratory. It’s standing-room only as everyone in the Neuroscience Program settles in to hear details of the...
New study casts sharpest light yet on genetic mysteries of autism
October 29, 2014
Our picture of how genetic errors contribute to autism has just gotten sharper. Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Our picture of how genetic errors contribute to autism has just gotten sharper. The latest series of clarifications in what, in its totality, is a very complex puzzle, emerges from new research published in Nature today by...
Putting together the genome with first-year student Maria Nattestad
May 21, 2014
In 1990, the effort to sequence the human genome began, led, in part, by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s then-director Jim Watson. Scientists anticipated the project would reveal about 100,000 genes occupying the 3.3 billion bases of DNA. The human genome sequence would help us understand and treat thousands of diseases with genetic contributions. Sequencing cost between $2 and...
Research sees overlap in altered genes found in schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability
April 28, 2014
Dublin, Ireland and Cold Spring Harbor, NY — In research published today in Molecular Psychiatry, a multinational team of scientists presents new evidence supporting the theory that in at least some cases of schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability (ID), malfunctions in some of the same genes are contributing to pathology. The team, the product of...
Bread wheat’s large and complex genome is revealed
November 27, 2012
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is one of the “big three” globally important crops, accounting for 20% of the calories consumed by people. Fully 35% of the world’s 7 billion people depend on this staple crop for survival. Now an international team of scientists, including a group from Cold Spring Harbor...
Knowing thy genome: The science and ethics of personal genome sequencing
July 10, 2012
ntil not too long ago, asking “Who am I?” of oneself often meant undertaking a voyage of self-discovery either through travel to a faraway land or through time-limited visits to a therapist’s couch. We now live in an era that offers a third, possibly cheaper armchair option. For less than the price of a business-class...
‘Most comprehensive’ genetic analysis of maize plant will help raise yields, expand its range
June 1, 2012
Cold Spring Harbor, NY and Washington, DC — An international research team involving 17 institutions including Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has published the most comprehensive analysis to date of the maize genome. It is an achievement that substantially increases scientists’ understanding of differences across related but different species of the plant, which most North Americans call corn,...
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Molaro, A. and Hodges, E. and Fang, F. and Song, Q. and McCombie, W. R. and Hannon, G. J. and Smith, A. D. (2011) Sperm Methylation Profiles Reveal Features of Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution in Primates. Cell, 146(6) pp. 1029-1041.
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