Press Release No. 28 | 6 July 2017
High-Throughput Methods: DFG to Fund Modern Research Infrastructures in the Life Sciences
New funding initiative for high-throughput sequencing / “Remaining internationally competitive”
The DFG aims to strengthen the use of so-called high-throughput methods at German universities. These methods have become key technologies in life sciences research in recent years. During the annual meeting in Halle (Saale), the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) approved a funding initiative which for the first time will provide targeted financial resources for sequencing projects and the associated expansion of university-based infrastructures. The funding volume amounts to a total of €42 million for an initial period of three years.
High-throughput methods – also known as “omics” technologies – allow the DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites of biological samples to be comprehensively analysed in a short time through a mostly automated process. This produces large volumes of data which can only be processed and evaluated with the help of high-performance bioinformatics methods. Of special relevance here is high-throughput sequencing, also referred to as next-generation sequencing or NGS, which allows the genome, epigenome and transcriptome of a biological sample to be fully recorded and quantified. However, this technology is rapidly evolving.
Through this funding initiative, the DFG is acknowledging the fact that Germany is not adequately prepared for new developments in the area of high-throughput methods. This was noted by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in a report published in 2014. In response, the DFG Senate – supported by other DFG bodies and with the participation of numerous researchers – examined this topic in detail. A significant need for action was identified, especially in the area of high-throughput sequencing, where compared with other countries Germany lacks major centres with appropriate NGS infrastructure, primarily at universities, and the high usage costs create difficulties.
This is where the new funding initiative comes into play, by supporting the use of sequencing technologies in DFG research projects and at the same time kick-starting the development of the necessary infrastructures at suitable universities. In the first stage, the aim is to increase the concentration of outstanding competencies and resources in NGS at two to three German universities. These NGS centres of competence will then be available to all researchers in Germany for the purposes of sequencing projects. As well as sequencing itself, they will provide bioinformatics advice in advance of the process and during data evaluation. This measure is specifically intended to strengthen universities as centres of NGS technology.
In the second stage, funding is to be offered for projects with medium sequencing requirements – of between €100,000 and €1 million. Proposals can be submitted for all research sites in Germany and for all organisms. The necessary sequencing will be carried out through the centres established in stage one. Projects involving a smaller amount of sequencing will continue to be funded through established project funding and, as before, can be conducted with an academic or non-academic partner in Germany or abroad.
“Through the funding initiative for high-throughput sequencing, the DFG is contributing to the greater use of NGS technologies in the life sciences,” said Prof. Dr. Katja Becker, DFG Vice President and chair of the working group which developed the initiative. “The initiative is designed to fulfil an urgent need – especially outside medical research and at universities – and sow the seed for the development of a larger national NGS infrastructure.”
She adds: “But to remain internationally competitive in high-throughput technologies, we need further activities to expand modern research infrastructures in the life sciences – the DFG initiative can only be a first component of this. For example, we need funding concepts for major projects that fall outside the focus of the DFG initiative with a volume of more than €1 million, which are mainly found in medicine, especially in large international projects.”
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