[Coral-List] Update on Coral Sequencing Project

Gary K. Ostrander gko at hawaii.edu
Wed Nov 2 14:00:56 EST 2005

Update on Coral Genome Sequencing Project (November 3, 2005).


In late 2003 we prepared a white paper for NHGRI for the sequencing of the genome of Porites lobata.  This document included letters of support from about 50 investigators from around the world and reflected the prevailing wisdom that P. lobata was the preferred species for sequencing.


The review of our white paper was slowed considerably by introduction of a new review process at NHGRI.  Moreover, in mid-2004 I was asked to provide further justification for the selection of P. lobata over Acropora palmata.  Though this had been discussed in the white paper, I did provide further justification.


In August of 2004 I was notified that initially two species, P. lobata and A. millepora had been chosen for pilot sequencing.  This came as a surprise as A. millepora had only been advanced by one group when the white paper was being developed.  Following subsequent discussions I was informed by NHGRI that they would conduct pilot sequencing of three coral species, P. lobata, A. palmata, and A. millepora and based on the sequencing they would select one coral species for full-scale sequencing.  Over the next few months I was able to obtain HM DNA for each of these species from Monica Medina (A. palmata),   David Miller (A. millepora) and Craig Downs, Teresa Lewis and I (P. lobata).  These samples were processed and shipped to the Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis, MO (USA).   Please see: http://www.genome.wustl.edu/genome_index.cgi for details of the analysis.


After our analysis of the resulting data we prepared a sequencing plan for P. lobata and submitted this to NHGRI for consideration in early 2005.  We were notified in August 2005 that the working group had recommending P. lobata to the coordinating committee.  Unfortunately, after the Council met to consider these recommendations, I received the following email from NIH/NHGRI:   


Hello Gary,

I am sorry to say that, in the end, sequencing the coral genome was not seen
as being a high priority for NHGRI. As you know, the original working group
discussion was very positive, and continued to be up until the time that it
forwarded the specific recommendation this round. But the Coordinating
Committee had significant concerns. They did think that Coral sequence would
be valuable for basic biology, and that Porites was probably the right
choice. However, the committee did not think that sequencing the coral
genome was of direct enough significance or relevance for the general NIH

There was specific discussion of some of the features of coral discussed in
the original white paper that could have importance for human health, such
as long life span, or understanding/identifying genes underlying biological
functions characteristic of organisms at that evolutionary position.
However, the committee thought that the arguments were too indirect. It is
important to note that the Coordinating Committee members did agree about
the ecological significance of coral, and the problem of coral bleaching,
but they thought that these issues were not within the NIH purview. They
also thought that it was unclear how sequence information would lead to a
better understanding of these significant issues, compared to other avenues
of research. 

Our Council concurred with these conclusions. 

>From a personal perspective, it is important to note that our sequencing
program is changing as we continually evaluate what we do. In the past year,
more emphasis is being put on problems of more direct medical relevance,
though certainly not to the exclusion of investigating significant
biological problems, or sequencing model organisms. In addition, there is a
sense that the general goal of filling in the nodes of the tree leading to
humans has mostly been done, and that arguments based on that concept alone
are no longer sufficient. Finally, this discussion comes at a time of
decreasing NIH budgets, and as you might expect that forces us to look more
carefully at everything, and to refine our priorities. 

I am sorry that the outcome was not more positive.  If you have any
questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. 

Best regards,



Obviously, we are disappointed.  However, we have not been deterred.  We are preparing to submit our request to sequence P. lobata the GJI and I have also identified one private foundation that has expressed an interest in picking up the 7 million dollar price tag for the sequencing project.  We are looking at other options as well.  I suspect, in the end, we will have to secure funding from multiple sources to finance this effort.  I am also pursing this matter further with NHGRI as I respectfully disagree with some of the conclusion expressed in their summary statement.


Do not hesitate to contact me with questions.



Gary K. Ostrander 

Professor of Biochemical Oncology &

    Marine Biology

University of Hawaii

Gary K. Ostrander  Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Research
     and Graduate Education
Professor of Biochemical Oncology &
     Marine Biology
2500 Campus Road  Hawaii Hall 211
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, HI  96822
808/956-7837 office
808/956-2751 fax

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