Post genomics - explained

Imagine you have just found the key to a large, undiscovered library. The rooms are dark. You're surrounded by booklined shelves stuffed with knowledge but there are no lights, no floor plan, you don't know how the books are organised and many are in languages you can't read. You know somewhere in that library are valuable secrets - the secrets of life or health...They might be just one sentence long. But how do you find them?

That makes a good analogy for where post genomics is right now.

The amount of information uncovered by the Human Genome Project and its equivalents in other organisms such as the fruit fly is mountainous. Post genomics is the science of quarrying that information, extracting what is useful and putting it to work in, for example, understanding diseases such as cancer, diabetes and malaria.

New technologies to accelerate that searching process have developed so fast that what was state-of-the-art two years ago is already regarded as primitive. So the bringing together of the four key cutting edge technologies and, crucially, the scientists to use and develop them in one purpose built centre gives the University of Dundee a highly significant future stake in a field widely regarded as "The Next Big Thing" in the international science world.

Professor Mike Ferguson explains their significance: "A scientist working on diabetes, for example, might purify a protein associated with the action of insulin. Via proteomics she can rapidly - in days rather than years- identify the gene that encoded that protein and, via bioinformatics, classify the protein in terms of likely function and cellular location and produce a model of its three-dimensional structure. Armed with this information, she may use any one of a plethora of molecular interactions techniques to understand exactly how that protein functions and deduce ways of influencing that function to provide health-benefits. The DNA-Microarray technology can provide an alternative "in" into the same type of information loop by rapidly comparing the genes that are switched on and off in normal versus diseased tissues."

The centre will house seven permanent staff to operate the equipment and the research teams of Dr David Norman and Professors David Lilley, Mark Chaplain and Geoff Barton; bringing the total to over 40 scientists. Professor Barton was recently recruited from The Hinxton Genome Campus, near Cambridge, where half of the human genome was sequenced, to head up bioinformatics at Dundee. He is Co-Director of the new centre along with Professor Mike Ferguson.

The centre's purpose built laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities in bioinformatics, proteomics, DNA microarrays and molecular interactions.

The £4.3 million post genome centre is housed in the Wellcome Trust Biocentre with a major £3.6m grant from the Wellcome Trust as part of the Joint Infrastructure Funding initiative and the balance coming from the University, SHEFC and Scottish Enterprise Tayside.

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