Joint Human Genome Institute operational

Lawrence Livermore has combined its human genome research efforts with those of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Department of Energy's new Joint Human Genome Institute, which begins operation in January. Formation of the joint institute was announced in October by Martha Krebs, director of DOE's Office of Energy Research. Named scientific director of the institute was Elbert Branscomb, a senior scientist in Lawrence Livermore's Biology and Biotechnology Research Division.
With their resources combined, said Branscomb, the labs will work to advance knowledge of the basic structure of the entire human genome, or genetic blueprint, through a coordinated effort whose initial major emphasis will be high-throughput DNA sequencing. For the past 10 years, researchers involved in the worldwide Human Genome Project have focused much of their efforts on mapping human DNA, as well as on developing the technology to do the sequencing. This work has progressed faster than expected, and researchers are now ready to undertake a full-scale assault on the sequencing task itself.
Besides contributing substantially to the worldwide sequencing effort, institute personnel are seeking to develop and apply new technologies for what Branscomb sees as the project's next great goal: deriving biological meaning from the otherwise cryptic sequence data.
Contact: Elbert Branscomb (510) 422-5681 (branscomb1@llnl.gov).


Lab chromosome work helps identify migraine gene

Using chromosome fragments obtained from Lawrence Livermore, medical researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands have identified a gene that may hold a key to understanding and eventually treating migraine headache.
In the November 1, 1996, issue of the journal Cell, the Dutch researchers reported discovery of an abnormally structured gene in people suffering from a rare inherited form of migraine called familial hemiplegic migraine. They also found other alterations in the same gene in people with a similar neurological disorder called episodic ataxia type-2.
The gene regulates the transport of calcium into specific classes of brain cells. This movement of calcium regulates the release of neurotransmitters, which are critical elements in the network of communication among cells of the brain and nervous system. Scientists are hopeful that subsequent studies of the newly discovered gene could advance understanding of the cause of more common forms of migraine and be a step in developing possible treatments.
The gene resides on chromosome 19, the organization and structure of which have long been studied by the Laboratory's Human Genome Center. Three years ago, Dutch medical researchers contacted Livermore scientists for the physical map of the chromosome and for fragments of DNA from the region of chromosome 19 in which they were interested. The availability of these resources, a product of the Human Genome Project, were critical in facilitating the identification of the gene.
Authors of the Cell article included researchers from Leiden University, Lawrence Livermore, Stanford University, the London Health Science Centre in Canada, IRCC S. Raffaele in Italy, and Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Contact: Harvey Mohrenweiser (510) 423-0534 (mohrenweiser1@llnl.gov).

Lab technology to help site oil wells

Laboratory scientists are helping oil producers more accurately determine the best places to site wells. The collaborative research project seeks to (1) develop better tiltmeters-instruments that measure changes in the tilt of the Earth's surface-and (2) improve computer models that predict tiltmeter signals. The result could be lower oil production costs and, ultimately, greater oil output.
Producing oil from American oil fields often requires "hydrofracturing"-the cracking of underground rock to provide channels through which oil can flow. Tiltmeters reveal the primary direction of cracking, which helps drillers decide where to sink additional wells. The Laboratory research project seeks to develop a tiltmeter that can work for hydrofractures as deep as 3 kilometers (10,000 feet). Currently, tiltmeter usefulness is limited to hydrofractures less than 1.8 kilometers (6,000 feet) deep; this is a significant limitation because 80% of all hydrofractures take place at depths greater than that.
To fine-tune computer models that predict tiltmeter signals from hydrofractures, researchers will combine data obtained from field tests of the new tiltmeters in California and Texas with existing geologic information supplied by oil companies. Accurate computer mapping of underground geology will help drillers decide where to place additional wells and how to hydrofracture them. Dubbed the Tiltmeter Hydraulic Fracture Imaging Project, the venture is a collaboration between the Laboratory and Pinnacle Technologies Inc. of San Francisco. Additional contributors are the University of Texas at Austin, Sandia National Laboratories, and a number of oil companies.
Contact: Phil Harben (510) 422-3571 (harben1@llnl.gov) or Steven Hunter (510) 423-2219 (hunter5@llnl.gov).

Lab 3-D animation debuts in TV commercial

An advanced three-dimensional computer imaging system developed at Lawrence Livermore made its commercial debut in a new national television advertising campaign by video game producer Sega. The first of the ads, for Sega Baseball, was named one of Adweek magazine's "best spots" for August.
Lawrence Livermore's three-dimensional motion camera system is the first computer system to produce true three-dimensional motion imaging-capturing and digitally reconstructing moving three-dimensional subjects to a degree of realism never before achieved. The technology originated in Lab research to produce guidance systems for robotic handling of hazardous waste.
Developed by Lawrence Livermore engineer Shin-yee Lu, the three-dimensional motion camera system uses a stereo videocamera system combined with sophisticated computer software to create unsurpassed animation detail.
Mark Malmberg, president of Xaos, Inc., the San Francisco production and special effects studio that produced the animation sequences for the advertisement, called use of the Laboratory's three-dimensional motion camera system "a great success." Still under development, the Livermore technology came to Xaos's attention through the Laboratory's Industrial Partnerships and Commercialization office.
Lu is continuing to refine the system, and the Laboratory is seeking opportunities to commercialize the technology and to expand it into different applications through licensing or joint development. An article about the technology appeared in the December 1996 S&TR, pp. 18-20. BR> Contact: Shin-yee Lu (510) 422-6882 (shinyee@llnl.gov).

Lab delivers portable DNA system to U.S. Army

A new portable DNA analysis system developed at Lawrence Livermore could revolutionize tests of food and water for contamination in remote locations and aid in identification of human remains on the battlefield, says a top Army forensic pathologist.
Lt. Col. Victor Weedn, M.D., chief deputy in the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiners and program manager of the Department of Defense DNA Registry of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, took delivery of the DNA analyzer for the U.S. Army in early November.
In addition to its contamination testing and remains identification applications, the system could be used to identify pathogenic bacteria on the battlefield. Using a technique known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the machine makes millions to billions of copies of specific DNA from traces of blood or other cells-whether plant, animal, or bacterial-at a fraction of the cost and time. The Laboratory has developed a microchip-based technology to perform this DNA testing.
M. Allen Northrup, the project's principal investigator, believes the new instrument is the first portable, battery-operated DNA analysis system. Developed at the Laboratory's Micro Technology Center, the system was funded by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Contact: M. Allen Northrup (510) 422-1638 (northrup1@llnl.gov).
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