This facility is also a partner in a new Genetic Research Hub in the East of England, funded by the MRC, with the University of Cambridge, the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute, the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and next-generation sequencing technology companies. The MRC is investing over GBP 7 million to support fundamental genetics research by creating three high-throughput sequencing (HTS) hubs in Scotland, the North of England and the East of England. This initiative will provide scientists across the country with access to cutting-edge resources for DNA sequencing and enable the United Kingdom to retain its world-leading standing in DNA research.
The next post-genomic challenge is unravelling how genes choreograph human development. Most cells in an individual have the same genetic material yet behave differently depending on where they are in the body. Epigenetic regulation is a further layer of control on top of the DNA sequence, increasing the developmental complexity that is possible from the same building blocks - the genes. Breakthroughs in epigenetics are changing our understanding of cancer, obesity and ageing.
Babraham's new facility will play a pivotal role defining the epigenetic basis of healthy ageing and certain diseases, illuminating how our actions and lifestyles today can have a detrimental or beneficial impact at a genetic level, on the health of future generations. This powerful sequencing system can identify previously undetectable minute differences between DNA samples, for example pinpointing chemical modifications to just one base pair - the genetic needle in a haystack of chromosomal information.
Professor Wolf Reik, Associate Director at the Babraham Institute and Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Cambridge, stated: "This facility and the partnership with the MRC Hub is a huge boost to our science strengths in epigenetics and chromatin research, cell signalling, and immunology, and their applications in biomedicine. In particular, we will be able to get detailed insights into how the genome and the chromosomes are modified and dynamically arranged within the cell nucleus so that many thousands of genes can be co-ordinately regulated during development and in the adult organism."
He explained: "The ability to unravel whole epigenomes during normal development and healthy ageing, and to understand how epigenomes are modified by the environment and nutritional factors, is hugely exciting. Altered regulation of the epigenome is likely to underlie many common human diseases, including diabetes or cancer. Unlocking the principles of epigenome reprogramming is key to being able to harness the promises of regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy."
He added: "This is an excellent example of how joint BBSRC and MRC investment in epigenetics research at the Babraham Institute, combined with our pro-active involvement with spin out companies, such as CellCentric, in the development of new technologies, has provided the leverage to enter into partnership with MRC's new regional hub."
With today's technology, large amounts of data will be generated in relatively short periods of time. "The analysis of epigenomes on a large scale presents new challenges and career opportunities for computational biologists, with whom we are beginning to engage in productive collaborations", explained Professor Reik.
"As an integral partner in the recently awarded MRC Sequencing Hub, other HTS systems from our partners are now added to our capability, hence increasing the sequencing power and diversity of approaches that we will be able to use. We look forward to working in close partnership with Professors John Todd and Steven Oliver at the University of Cambridge and are delighted that this award strengthens further our strategic relationship with Professor Graham Burton of the Centre for Trophoblast Research."
John Jeans, MRC Chief Operating Officer stated: "Inviting regional applications has generated innovative partnerships between academic institutions, as well as engagement with industry, the NHS and Regional Genetics Services. This initiative will engender innovative ways of working and enable new and exciting discoveries. We hope the hubs will allow scientists to ask increasingly precise questions about diseases, and gather answers that were undreamt of only a decade ago."