Japan announces follow-up to human genome project

Tokyo

Japan is launching the Genome Network, a five-year, ¥15-billion (US$130-million) initiative that will attempt to build on the human genome project and systematically study the function of all human genes.

The initiative will collate experimental data on all 30,000 human genes, says Yoshihide Hayashizaki, a researcher at the Genomic Sciences Center (GSC) in Yokohama and member of the project's steering committee. The GSC will play a central role, but Japan's science ministry will divide the work among researchers across the country. Organizers plan to start recruiting teams next week.

Details of the initiative remain to be decided. Like the US Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project, it aims at a systematic, comprehensive analysis of the human genome. Japan's project will focus on how the information in the genome is expressed, says Yoshiyuki Sakaki, who is head of the GSC and also on the steering committee. It will look at the interaction between genes and the proteins known as transcription factors that initiate expression of them, he explains.

The project hopes to assemble a library of complementary DNA corresponding to every human gene. The collections of cDNA held by Hayashizaki's centre and by Sumio Sugano of University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science are already among the largest in the world, notes Sakaki. “We need to take advantage of this,” he says.

Takehiko Sasazuki, head of research at the International Medical Center of Japan in Tokyo and chairman of the steering committee, says the scale of the project will help ensure its success. “By putting together all these data, we will be able to find unexpected phenomena.”

Sakaki and others say that the initiative will begin at a national level but may collaborate with projects in other countries later. “First we have to run our own system and then we can figure out how to cooperate,” says Sakaki. “We need a year.”

He adds that details of the project will be agreed at a final steering committee meeting on 31 May, and that work will begin in September, with funding already assured from the science ministry.

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Cyranoski, D. Japan announces follow-up to human genome project. Nature 429, 332 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/429332b

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