April 11, 2016  |  General

From Earthworms to Alpacas: Vote Now to Choose the Next SMRT Grant Program Winner!

BlogPhoto3For the first time ever, the winner of this year’s “Explore Your Most Interesting Genome” SMRT Grant program will be decided by the community. We’ll be using our new Genome Galaxy Initiative and Experiment’s dedicated-to-science crowdfunding platform for this worldwide event.
Here’s how it works: our top five finalists will be engaging with you directly through their project pages on the Genome Galaxy Initiative via Experiment where you will have the opportunity to learn more and ask scientists about their projects.  We will be conducting daily polls so you can cast your vote for the project you feel should be supported by the SMRT Grant program (see FAQ). The four runners-up will then have a second chance at seeing their projects kick-off through promotion and public donations on Experiment.
Voting starts today and remains open until May 1. Brief descriptions of the projects follow. Who will you vote for today?
Project: The Amazing & Enigmatic Alpaca
Investigator: Kylie Munyard, Curtin University
According to Munyard’s proposal, the economically important alpacas are of great scientific interest on a number of fronts, and producing a reference genome will enable new studies in both agricultural and biomedical research. Alpacas are a good model for diabetes research; they have innate mechanisms to stay free of parasites; their distant relationship to other agricultural animals makes them good for comparative study; and much more.
Project: Plant Heroes for Remediation of Soils Contaminated with Heavy Metals
Investigator: Renying Zhuo, Chinese Academy of Forestry
With this project, Zhuo aims to produce high-quality genomes for two strains of Sedum alfredii: one heavily accumulates cadmium ions from polluted soil while the other doesn’t, although both are found in the same ecosystem. Scientists hope to improve on fragmented short-read assemblies and use comparative genomics to understand the plant’s mechanism for processing heavy metals, with the ultimate goal of using this information for remediating contaminated soil.
Project: Sequencing an Extremophile Earthworm
Investigator: Luis Cunha, Cardiff University
This project would sequence the extraordinary earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus, which lives in a volcanic geothermal field with high exposure to toxic gases, extreme temperatures, and very little oxygen. Cunha’s proposal notes that preliminary work with draft assemblies indicates significant levels of horizontal gene transfer that could be better characterized with SMRT Sequencing.
Project: Scar-Free Regeneration in the Spiny Mouse
Investigator: William Barbazuk, University of Florida
According to this proposal, the adult spiny mouse is the only known mammal with the unique ability to regenerate skin and organs after wounds without any scars or other indications of trauma, making this organism interesting for regenerative medicine. Barbazuk hypothesizes novel genes, alternatively-spliced isoforms, and gene expression regulators are responsible. He aims to use SMRT Sequencing to study the transcriptome of spiny mouse and its wound-healing properties.
Project: Highlighting Firefly: A Genome Resource
 Investigator: Jing-Ke Weng, MIT
This project would help a large consortium of researchers generate a high-quality genome assembly for Photinus pyralis, an American firefly. Weng’s proposal notes that the 2,000-plus species of these charismatic flashing beetles have been understudied, and that the biological mechanisms behind important traits such as bioluminescence remain unknown.
We thank our co-sponsors for their support of this event: Sage Science, Computomics, Experiment, and RTL Genomics.

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