Revolutionary New Equipment at Arizona Genomics Institute to Enhance Medical Research

AGI will increase capacity and expand services to the medical fields with a state-of-the-art genetic sequencing machine.
Dr. Brittany Uhlorn, BIO5 Institute

The Fourth Industrial Revolution envisions a union of the biological, physical and data sciences - a collaborative approach that has long been a hallmark of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona. By deciphering the genetic code of all living organisms, researchers from various disciplines have the power to advance this new era of scientific discovery.  

A newly acquired, revolutionary instrument will place the Arizona Genomics Institute at the forefront of the ever-changing landscape of genetic code sequencing. The state-of-the-art Pacific Biosciences Sequel IIe sequencing machine will not only enable AGI to serve more clients across the state, but it will provide greater insights into gene sequence and function. 
“Sequencing capacity was a bottleneck that AGI had been experiencing for months,” said Dr. Dario Copetti, Associate Director of AGI at the BIO5 Institute. “When we only had one machine, many researchers were stuck waiting in the queue.”

two sequencing machines
The Arizona Genomics Institute has two state-of-the-art PacBio sequencing machines available for use by collaborators and researchers nationwide.

New sequencing machines like Sequel IIe can cost more than half a million dollars. In addition to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the BIO5 Institute helped remove the expensive bottleneck with a grant from their Equipment Enhancement Fund, grants intended to support collaborative research and facilities that are key players in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  
Led by Dr. Rod Wing, professor and CALS Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence, AGI has strived to decipher genetic information in all living organisms since its inception in 2002. While their initial focus was on rice and other crops, the institute has expanded its services to other plant and animal species with the adoption of equipment from PacBio starting in 2014.

Unlike traditional sequencing methods, PacBio’s instruments are unique in that they achieve a “sweet spot”: other platforms either sacrifice accuracy for read length or vice versa, but PacBio’s machines deliver highly accurate yet long reads, providing deeper biological insights to keep UArizona at the forefront of genetic sequencing. The new instrument also boasts a larger computer, increasing the speed of data delivery.  
By removing the capacity bottleneck, AGI aims at serving more of the research community at UArizona and across the state, particularly in the medical fields. 
AGI is also a trailblazer in DNA extraction and purification – methods essential to providing the proper starting material for the sequencing machines. 

researchers looking at specimen
Dr. Dario Copetti examines a specimen with AGI lab manager Jayson Talag and technician Victoria Bunting.


“Rod’s craftsman purification techniques are the thread that connects the history of AGI,” said Copetti. “At the beginning of the genomics era in the late 90s, his lab was always at the forefront of research, and his legacy continues to be leveraged worldwide, even as sequencing technologies rapidly change.” 
AGI and PacBio will host an event for universities and private companies across the state at the Keating Bioresearch Building on November 16. The three-hour program will feature talks from Copetti and PacBio about AGI’s services and the myriad applications of PacBio’s sequencing technology. 
“With this event, we hope to bring more awareness to what we can do and how the technology we have can benefit everyone’s research,” said Copetti. “Our goal is to show that our capabilities extend past plant sciences, ecology and evolutionary biology, going towards molecular and cellular biology, medical and veterinary sciences, as well.”
BIO5 member Dr. Monica Schmidt, associate professor of plant sciences, applied biosciences and genetics, will also share how her research has been improved by AGI’s PacBio technology. Schmidt’s laboratory is interested in enhancing the overall protein content of seed crops, with particular interest in the soybean, to help feed the growing world through plant-based protein sources. 
Her team developed a fluorescent soybean line and then mutated it to create numerous lines with varying protein contents. Those that glowed more brightly indicated greater protein.
Schmidt utilized AGI’s PacBio technology to create a reference genome of the fluorescent line from which she can compare high protein to know exactly what changes were made that might be contributing to the nutrient content – knowledge that will be important when developing breeding and transgenic efforts to popularize a high-protein soybean line. 
“Using the PacBio technology, we have assembled the first gap-free soybean genome,” Schmidt said. “Their sequencer provided us with the highest resolution you can get from a genome map.” 
The program will conclude with a presentation on medical field applications of the new sequencer, followed by a networking lunch to inspire scientific collaboration. PacBio and AGI will also host a SMRT Grant competition through which researchers can win funding to cover sequencing costs through AGI.    

For more information about the AGI/PacBio event, please visit: 

About the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute
The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona connects and mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy, data and computational science, and basic science to find creative solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in disease prevention strategies, innovative diagnostics and devices, promising new therapies, and improved food sustainability.