Monday, March 07, 2005

Sequencing the Genome of . . . NYC air?

Craig Venter is at it again! First, he pioneered shotgun sequencing. Then he went and sequenced a bunch of organisms (e.g., humans, Drosophila melanogaster, both the malaria parasite and its mosquito vector). Now he's going around the world on his yacht sequencing DNA from random organisms in the oceans. While he's at it, he's proposing sequencing DNA from organisms in New York City's air (subscription required).
In a pilot project scheduled to be officially announced today, a team from Dr. Venter's nonprofit organization, the J. Craig Venter Institute, is using a filtering device to take air samples from atop the roof of a 40-story office building in the most congested part of Midtown.


While much is known about various pollutants, only a tiny percentage - about 1 percent - of the micro-organisms in the air can be identified by traditional methods involving growing cultures. The new process is intended to provide as intimate a picture of the air as the genome mapping provided of the human body.

The genetic information could then be used to create a comprehensive background image of New York's air. In turn, that would make it easier to identify any dangerous new organisms that come from an act of bioterrorism.

I don't have much to say about this. It's just crazy. Not crazy bad. It just makes you wonder what he's gonna sequence next.


At 7:49 PM, Blogger Orac said...

I saw Craig Venter give a talk about his voyage through the oceans, shot-gun sequencing random genomes. I wasn't sure if it was pure genius or pure madness, but he sure came up with some interesting results!

Here is the website for this expedition:

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I don't think it's crazy at all. The concept of "metagenomics" has been used in environmental microbiology for some time now, with a focus on soil and water environments. The methods have been very successful in illuminating the nature of the microbial populations that are unculturable (at the moment), and also in "bio-mining" for useful activities from these organisms. It's ambitious, certainly, and knowing (about) Venter, it is probably being sold as the solution to all problems in the universe, but it's not crazy (I know you don't really think it is crazy).

At 4:04 PM, Blogger RPM said...

No, I don't think it's crazy (meaning insane). I think it's crazy (meaning ambitious). Nucleotide sequencing has come so far in the past decade (the actual techniques have changed very little, but the methodology has been turned on its head). We've gone from targetting sequencing projects in which mapping came first, to different incarnations of the shotgun approach that involve "blindly" sequencing then assembling/mapping. Now Venter is sequencing prior to determing what organisms he's sampled. By the way, I still haven't read "Genome War," but it's on my to read list.


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