They say that seeing is believing. And now, the CNAG-CRG has managed to become part of a new genome visualization center that aims to develop technologies that allow the ‘see’ the entire human genome, in full and in 3D.
Marc Martí-Renom‘s laboratory at the CNAG-CRG, will collaborate with others at Harvard Medical School, Brown University and Baylor College of Medicine to achieve this goal.
The techniques that exist today only allow to observe, at most, 1% of the genome at a glance. “What we want to do is a change equivalent to going from black and white TV to a 4K SmartTV”, compares Marc.
For this, they will have 11.2 million dollars to use in the next five years, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States. “The new center will be ‘virtual’, in the sense that each of us will work from their current center; similar to what would be an EU Center of Excellence”, explains the group leader. “But we are setting up a central laboratory, which we call “Incubator”, which will be at Harvard and where there will be members of the 4 research groups that are part of the project”.
Thus, in the next five years they will develop techniques to see the genome ‘in situ’, inside the nucleus where it is folded: 2m of DNA in a nucleus of ~ 10 microns. “If the genome does not fold well, there are development problems, cancer, etc. What we want is that this visualization can be done in a simple, routine way, in hospitals or diagnostic centers around the world“, says Martín-Renom.
The new collaboration has 11.2 million dollars to achieve, in 5 years, the visualization under the microscope of the entire human genome (about 2m of DNA), in the nucleus of a single cell and in 3D.
It has not been easy at all to be part of this great project. “It is a type of funding from the NIH that is not usually given to groups outside the United States,” says Marc. The Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) had achieved this once before, when the group led by Roderic Guigó participated in the sequencing of the human genome, already 20 years ago.
On this occasion, Martín-Renom’s team has achieved it thanks to their expertise in the computational analysis of the images that will come out of the microscopes, as they have shown in recent articles
“We have been collaborating with these people since 2018. Last year we applied to this call and we were close to get it. This year we have achieved it mainly because we have already shown that what we want to do can be done,” explains Marc, pointing to a paper they published late last year describing OligoFISSEQ, a new method for mapping genomes that they developed with the Harvard group.
Thus, now begins this five-year journey to try to address, for the first time, the visualization of the entire human genome at the level of a single cell and in 3D – under the microscope. And the Martín-Renom group is proud to be part of it.
“Beyond the economic contribution, this grant represents for us an important international recognition of prestige”
Marc Martí-Renom, group leader at CNAG-CRG
“Apart from the money received (1.8M $ for our group, plus the part that we receive from the 6M $ from Harvard through the “Incubator”), and not least for us, this grant represents an important international recognition of prestige“, concludes the researcher