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Have you ever wondered how people actually go about sequencing a genome?

If they’re sequencing a chicken genome, do they raise chickens in the lab and get DNA from the eggs? Does the DNA sequence come out in one piece? Why is there so much talk about computers? What are Phred, Phrap, and Consed? What is the Golden Path?

Wonder no more!

You too, can take a virtual tour of the Washington University Genome Center.

I found this really excellent series of short videos that follows two genetics students, Libby and Bryce, as they meet on the bus to the Genome Center and learn about all the steps involved in sequencing a genome.

A kindly tour guide takes Libby and Bryce through an amazing number of core labs, where they see all (or at many) of the steps involved in large scale sequencing. Gallons of media get made. Robots pick colonies of bacteria and inoculate broth. Capillary tubes transport sequencing reactions into genetic analyzers and they see lots of people sitting in front of computers. All with the goal of generating sequence DNA.

The videos present the steps quite nicely and there a number of short animations to help visualize concepts such as growing E. coli that contain BACS (Bacterial Artificial Chromosomes), restriction mapping, and PCR.

Not only are these videos helpful for students who want to learn about biotechnology, these videos are helpful for bioinformatics groups and software companies like ours. Although some of us grew up sequencing DNA, many of the programmers and software engineers at Geospiza, did not. We often send new programmers on field trips to a local genome center so they can learn what technicians do. Now, we can also refer developers to the genome video to see where the samples go and learn how people work with all those robots.

I like this video, too, because it shows scientific careers that do not require a Ph.D. All too often, people think the only jobs in science involve heading up a laboratory, and they forget that industrial-scale science requires many different kinds of abilities and offers several different opportunities. In fact, a large number of the people working in facilities like genome centers have bachelor’s degrees or 2-year degrees from community college biotechnology programs.

Even if you’ve done some sequencing yourself, it’s still interesting to see how the Wash. U. genome center has turned DNA sequencing into an industrial scale process.

I, for one, never knew that so many genome technicians wore baseball caps at work.

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