The Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center (BCM-HGSC) was established in 1996 when the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) designated Baylor College of Medicine as one of six pilot programs for the final phases of the Human Genome Project (HGP). Then in 1999, the Center was chosen as one of three sites from the pilot program to complete the HGP.
In June 2000, scientists triumphantly announced they had deciphered the human genome, the blueprint for human life. This announcement did not mark the end of the project. In a sense, it was only the beginning.
In April 2003, the human genome project consortium announced the completion of Phase II of the HGP, which involved producing a complete, high-quality human DNA reference. Completion of this stage was a large-scale endeavor for the BCM-HGSC. The center was responsible for determining the DNA sequence of chromosomes 3, 12, and part of X. These sequences represent about 10 percent of the human genome.
Current Research Focus
The HGP is now in a new phase of exploring individual DNA sequence variation and its association with human diseases including Parkinson’s disease, childhood diabetes, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, heart disease, premature birth, epilepsy, autism as well as breast, prostate, brain, pancreatic and bladder cancer.
In addition, the BCM-HGSC is characterizing normal genetic variation in human populations. The results are anticipated to change the way we understand disease and other life processes.
Sequencing the genomes of other organisms
Since the completion of the human genome project, the BCM-HGSC has sequenced many other genomes, including the mouse, rat, fruit fly, rhesus monkey, honey bee, sea urchin, marmoset, orangutan, and cow. In addition, sequencing projects are currently under way for many other species, including the acorn worm, wallaby, hyrax, megabat, dolphin, pea aphid, red flour beetle, nasonia wasp, gibbon, baboon, and over two hundred different microbial organisms.
When compared with the human genome sequence, the genomes of these other organisms will help us predict where genes are located in human chromosomes, and will lead to a better understanding of how genomes have evolved.
The BCM-HGSC Today
Today, the BCM-HGSC employs more than 200 staff, and it occupies more than 36,000 square feet on the 14th, 15th, and 16th floors of the Margaret M. and Albert B. Alkek Building. The BCM-HGSC is located on the southwest edge of downtown Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex.
The major activity of the BCM-HGSC is high-throughput DNA sequence generation and the accompanying analysis. The center currently operates multiple sequencing platforms (ABI Sanger and SOLid, 454 Life Sciences and Solexa/Illumina). The sequence data generated by these machines is analyzed in a complex bioinformatics pipeline, and the data are deposited regularly in the public databases at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). This ensures that the worldwide research community has timely access to the data.
The BCM-HGSC is also involved in developing the next generation of DNA sequencing and bioinformatics technologies that will allow greater scientific advances in the future.
BCM-HGSC and the Community
The BCM-HGSC has strong ties with the Houston community, and the BCM-HGSC has made special efforts to provide information about DNA sequencing and genomics to the public.
Coinciding with the announcement of the completion of the HGP in April 2003, the BCM-HGSC collaborated with the Houston Museum of Natural Science to present a year-long comprehensive exhibit on genomics and genetics to the city of Houston. The exhibit presented information about human health, diversity, and biotechnology in the context of the recent advances in genomics.
Previously, at the completion of the draft human genome sequence, the BCM-HGSC sponsored the Global Human Genome Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Health & Medical Sciences in November 2000.
The BCM-HGSC regularly provides tours to the community.
The BCM-HGSC Minority Diversity Initiative
In 2003, the BCM-HGSC, with the support of the NHGRI, launched a program to increase minority representation in the genomic sciences. Minorities underrepresented in the genomic sciences are defined as African American, Hispanic American, Native American, and Pacific Islander (non-Asian).
The BCM-HGSC Minority Diversity Initiative aims to encourage minority students to pursue a career in the genomic sciences and to address the historical underrepresentation of minorities in the field. We have had great success since the initial launch of our program, and many of the students who have participated are already moving toward graduate degrees in this field.
Our diversity initiative actively collaborates with colleges in the local academic community, including Prairie View A&M University, Jarvis Christian College, the University of Houston, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and University of Texas at El Paso.