San Diego Business Journal

Researchers at UC San Diego are creating a massive database that scientists worldwide will use to identify new genes in microscopic marine life.

The project, which is under way thanks to a recent $24.5 million grant from the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has significant implications for the industries of health care and biotechnology, said Peter Arzberger, director of life science initiatives at UCSD and director of the National Biomedical Computation Resource, a project funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"As you identify new genes, you can develop molecules from genes to create drugs," Arzberger said. "There will be many more materials and more knowledge of the types of genes and proteins that are out there, and we may be able to find uses for them."

Arzberger added, "We will learn more about how life evolved, and in an indirect way, learn more about diseases and how to fight them."

The database will be called the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis, or CAMERA. Scientists will use CAMERA to analyze genomic sequences in relation to other species and environments.

Coming Into Focus

Duane Roth, the chief executive officer of UCSD's Connect, an organization that fosters startup biotech and high-tech companies, said the community has not yet grasped the impact the project will have on scientific discoveries.

"For San Diego to land this CAMERA project speaks volumes about our local research capabilities and the opportunities for new businesses created from the convergence of biology and information technology," Roth said. "For the biotechnology field, this research will open up vast new databases to help define new strategies for therapeutics."

The project was conceptualized by the grant-making foundation, and both UCSD and the Rockville, Md.-based J. Craig Venter Institute will share the grant, to be allotted during the next seven years, and work together to develop the database, which will expand as scientists add to it. Security features that only allow approved material into the database are yet to be resolved, Arzberger said.

Scientists, mathematicians and technology experts at UCSD and Venter will develop software tools that help scientists decipher genetic codes and cut down research time, according to UCSD.

"They are hoping to revolutionize science and biotechnology," said Arzberger, who wrote the grant application for the project.

At UCSD, the division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology is leading the project.

Joe Panetta, the president and CEO of Biocom, a regional life sciences trade group, said: "We are always excited to see any new technology that has the potential to speed new therapies to market. Anything that will improve the caliber of early stage discovery research means a greater chance of getting new products to patients."