BLACKSBURG, Va., August 8, 2012 - This month, Virginia Tech opens the doors to a new breed of genomics laboratory -- the Genomics Research Laboratory at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI). Providing a spectrum of services, the lab offers cutting-edge DNA sequencing equipment, project design assistance, analysis of results, and training in genomic analysis. The laboratory’s powerful, high-output equipment and staff bioinformaticians who help interpret the data, can sequence an entire human genome – three billion pairs of genes – in a day.

“I can’t think of anything that will have a greater effect on people’s lives than having the ability to sequence the human genome quickly and cheaply. We want to be at the forefront of that, analyzing and drawing real value out of genomic information,” said Stanley Hefta, the institute’s director of strategic planning and business development.

Among the many services the Genomic Research Laboratory will provide to users are upgrades in the laboratory’s ability to analyze genomic information and state-of- the-art Illumina HiSeq and MiSeq technology. These systems can produce valuable genomic information within eight hours or less of input, depending on researcher needs. VBI’s staff bioinformaticians are available to help interpret and reduce the data to results and biological insights.


VBI's new equipment in the Genomics Research Lab is now in use.


“With these new instruments we have solidly shifted the focus from acquiring the data -- that’s the easy part -- to interpreting and extracting knowledge from the data. That’s the hard part,” said Robert Settlage, director of bioinformatics.


The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s current core laboratory facility works closely with life science customers worldwide in industry and education, including more than 105 laboratories on campus. Primary users at Virginia Tech include the departments of plant pathology and weed sciences, forestry, animal and poultry sciences, biological sciences, biochemistry, and researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute.

“Recently, our research has been hindered by lack of more sophisticated sequencing technology especially the Illumina Hi-Seq platform, said Rami A. Dalloul, Ph.D., associate professor of animal and poultry science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Dalloul added, “This deficiency resulted in outsourcing portions of major projects to other core facilities thus delaying generating new data. With VBI’s acquisition of the Hi-Seq and Mi-Seq Illumina platforms, along with the services provided by the Data Analysis Core, our project needs will be centralized and hopefully data generation and analysis will be better streamlined, affording us a more competitive edge in grant funding.”

Significant technology upgrades often prove that investing in newer technology can be the key to gaining funding and visibility for research. For example, when Virginia Tech brought together a consortium of universities including Michigan State, Roslin Institute, Utah State and the University of Minnesota to sequence the turkey genome, the large USDA grant that funded the research was awarded in part because VBI possessed the necessary, sophisticated instrumentation. Many papers and collaborations, including grant submissions, resulted from the wisdom of making the investment in the best equipment.

"It is our highest priority to offer researchers at Virginia Tech access to best-in-class genomic research instrumentation and analysis," said Hefta.

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
The Virginia Bioinformatics institute at Virginia Tech combines genetic research and high-performance computing to increase our understanding of the complex life forces and social systems that affect the health and safety of plants, animals, and humans. Our work brings together life scientists, biomedical researchers, computer scientists, and information technologists in and array of fields – including experts in genomics, proteomics, applied informatics, biology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, medicine, and cyberinfrastructure to conduct transdisciplinary research. Our advanced methods of analysis, sheer computing power, and enormous data storage capacity enable us to turn oceans of data into the insights required to combat disease and to mitigate the consequences of catastrophic events on society.


Aleta Delaplane

August 08, 2012