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New State-of-the-Art Sequencer at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin


Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed the start button for a new state-of-the-art DNA sequencer during her visit on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB) of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. The BIMSB is the first academic research institution in Continental Europe to use this sequencer for research. With this device from Pacific Biosciences it is possible to sequence single DNA molecules in real time and gain deeper insight into gene regulation. Dr. Jonas Korlach, co-inventor of the PacBio technology and a native Berliner, was present at the ceremony. The Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom is currently the only other research institution in Europe with this sequencer.

The MDC explores the development of diseases inside the cell, focusing on genes and proteins. Using highly advanced techniques, Medical Systems Biology enables detailed insight into the molecular networks of genes and proteins and studies their regulation and interaction as well as their importance for disease development. "To accomplish this, enormous quantities of data must be processed," Professor Rajewsky said. "This data deluge - previously only associated with nuclear physics and astrophysics - is analyzed by means of mathematical and statistical methods and high-performance computing," he explained to the Chancellor. Like Angela Merkel, Professor Rajewsky originally studied physics.

The new PacBio RS sequencing system, which was launched on the market by Pacific Biosciences, a technology company in Menlo Park, California, USA, in April of this year, supplements the technologies in the BIMSB Scientific Genomics Platform led by Dr. Wei Chen. The novel sequencer reads the sequence of the DNA bases in real time, and visualizes the reaction of a single enzyme with a single DNA molecule by means of a laser. DNA amplification is no longer required prior to sequencing, and thus potential sources of error can be avoided. The new SMRT (single molecule real-time) technology can, on average, produce DNA reads of more than 1000 bases and can complete an experiment in one day instead of one week or longer.

"The outstanding characteristic of SMRT technology is not only that one can watch how DNA is being synthesized. The data we generate through this new technology enable us to quantitatively analyze gene regulation, RNA function, epigenetic gene regulation, DNA modification and genome structure," Professor Rajewsky said. "This technology allows us deeper insight into gene regulatory networks and opens new approaches to personalized medicine."

The BIMSB was launched by the MDC in 2008 on Campus Berlin-Buch and was supported by pilot funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Senate of Berlin. It works closely with research institutions and networks in Berlin and beyond, in particular with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin and also with New York University in the U.S. A new 5500 m² building for around 300 employees located on Humboldt University's 'Campus Nord' is planned to be completed in 2015. The Senate of Berlin has allocated 30 million euros for the building project. The annual operating costs of 20 million will be funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90 percent) and by the State of Berlin (10 percent).

Source: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)