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Dr. Ivo Gut

Director of the new National Genome Analysis Center

The Director of the new National Genome Analysis Center, located at the Barcelona Science Park, is one of the most prestigious and experienced international scientists in genomics. Before coming to Barcelona, he was assistant director of the French Centre National de Genotypage and led the Max-Planck Institute’s molecular genetics group.

Start-up of the National Genome Analysis Center (CNAG), which has joined the nine large top-notch science facilities in Catalonia, will ensure Spanish competitiveness in a strategic field like genomics.

More specifically, the CNAG will contribute to the competitive development of key economic sectors like biomedicine, agriculture, food biotechnology, renewable energy and environmental bioengineering, as well as covering growing demand in Spain for sequencing related to large-scale projects like participation in the International Cancer Genome Consortium –which catalogs genome mutations in 50 types and subtypes of cancer.

This new center is jointly funded by the Ministry for Science and Innovation and the Government of Catalonia and follows strategic aims laid out in the Ingenio Program 2010, the Strategic National Plan for Science and Technology, and the National R&D&i Plan 2008-2011.

How would you define the National Genome Analysis Center?

It’s a really exciting project. It was started with the clear vocation to become an internationally renowned genome analysis center, with cutting-edge state-of-the-art genome-sequencing technology. This will allow us to obtain important results in a much shorter time than we were used to. In fact, in theory we will be able to generate 15 gigabases per day, meaning we could sequence a person’s genome in only two days. Not so long ago this would have taken three weeks.

Could you give an example to explain the significance of this processing capacity?

We have to take into account that it took ten years, thousands of people and 3 thousand million dollars to carry out the first human genome sequencing. But now, with state-of-the-art technology and scientific instruments, just a few thousand euros and a team of thirty, we have decoded the genotype of a human being in two days.

Why does the CNAG focus mainly on genomic analysis of cancer?

Our genome sequencing capacity allows us to advance much more quickly in cancer research, where it is key to understand the DNA of different tumors. We will focus mainly on decoding the genome of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) as part of our participation in the International Cancer Genome Consortium. We will also be able to detect small genomic mutations, which will allow us to predict the appearance of different tumors and understand the processes that lead to their development. From this point, we can do many things, like creating new diagnostic tools and new, more effective treatment.

Is it true that other sectors like agriculture and renewable energy will be able to benefit from research carried out at the CNAG?

Exactly. In fact, we can sequence the genome of some species to determine how they adapt to specific climatic conditions or see how we can strengthen these characteristics. As a result, we can also use much of this plant research to develop different types of biofuels, obtain hydrogen from the plants’ own storage mechanisms, or find new scientific applications to improve our daily quality of life.

How important is the relationship between the CNAG and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center?

The relationship between these two centers is key to our work. Engineers from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center built the basic computing infrastructure we need at the CNAG and provide constant supervision of our equipment. Basically, they are in charge of making sure everything works correctly and of managing our equipment. Additionally, they can provide extra processing capacity if we need it for a specific research project.

What advantages does the CNAG’s location in the Barcelona Science Park have?

Personally, I consider it a magnificent environment to carry out our work. Thanks to this location, we can interact with other organizations, institutions and companies to create synergies, which are very important in the science world. Moreover, our proximity to the University of Barcelona has allowed us to contact other universities like Valencia and Salamanca, which increases interaction among the stakeholders in the world of science around Spain.

You’re from Basel and have worked for many years in France. What do you think about the state of science in Spain?

I believe Spain’s progress in the field of science has been fantastic. Over the past 10 or 15 years, Spain has built facilities that are one-of-a-kind in Europe and has been able to attract young people who are increasingly choosing to study our field at university. I don’t think Spain has anything to envy other countries in Europe and, as I said, that is due to the important efforts of all stakeholders over the past years. It would be a shame if the recession ruined this amazing progress, but I trust this won’t happen and that the Spanish government will be able to continue on this path, which has been so successful in recent years.

Related news: Ministry and Government of Catalonia formalize agreement on National Genome Analysis Center in Barcelona (3/2/2010)

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