David R. Nelson Receives $211,212 Grant for Genome Annotation

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David R. Nelson, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry at UTHSC, has received a grant totaling $211,212 from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

David R. Nelson, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $211,212 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award will fund Dr. Nelson and his research team’s efforts to design better methods for finding and assembling genes from newly sequenced genomes. The study titled, “EAGER: Improved Computational Tools for Plant Gene Assembly and Synteny Detection,” entails a two-year collaborative analysis with The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tokyo, Japan. EAGER stands for Early Grant for Exploratory Research, a category of NSF grants.

The ability to perform DNA sequencing to determine the order of the letters AGC and T in an organism’s chromosomes has exceeded the ability to carefully identify and assemble each gene. A human genome has 3.2 billion letters of DNA in its chromosomes and about 20,000 genes. By the end of this year, new sequencing machines will be able to categorize a human genome for about $1,000 in less than one day. Currently, there are plans to sequence the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate animals, 5,000 insects and 1,000 plants in the coming years.

Dr. Nelson and his research team are focused on developing better methods to find and organize the correct order of a gene’s protein coding parts, called exons.

“Our research is critical since there are already millions of known genes and many millions more will soon be available,” said Dr. Nelson. “There are too many genes for people to inspect and assemble manually. My collaborator in Japan, Dr. Osamu Gotoh, is an expert in writing computer programs to assemble genes. I have manually assembled genes from dozens of genomes from plants, animals, fungi and microbes, and named more than 17,000 genes. Together, Dr. Gotoh and I will seek ways to make existing computer algorithms better at gene assembly.

In the future, this research could be beneficial for discovering the genes and their protein products that make valuable pharmaceuticals such as anti-cancer drugs and antibiotics, many of which come from plants.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense