WASHINGTON _ The U.S. Commerce Department's NationalInstitute of Standards and Technology (NIST) plans to spend $145million over the next five years to spur development of compact, low-cost automated DNA analysis technologies and equipment. The moneywill be distributed to industry through a cost-sharing grant programadministered by NIST's Advanced Technology Program.After reviewing more than 550 white papers from diverse industries,NIST concluded that development of rapid DNA sequencing andanalysis tools is considered by industry to be a vital component of thenation's future economic health and competitiveness.The DNA diagnostics program is designed to foster methods,instrumentation, and data-handling protocols that will speed up DNAanalyses and sequence interpretation by a factor of 10 while reducingcosts to between one-tenth to one-hundredth of present costs. The ideais to leverage discoveries of the government-funded Human GenomeProject, which is engaged in an effort to map the human genome, byfostering commercial opportunities for diagnostics and therapeutics.A primary goal of the program is to develop easy-to-use miniaturizedtools that can rapidly analyze minute quantities of DNA from humanpatients as well as agricultural plants and livestock. Such tools couldenhance the ability to sequence and analyse ever smaller DNA samplesmore quickly and could reduce costs for procedures done in places asdiverse as hospitals, forensics labs, and meat packing plants.One example of a "working system" for hospitals cited by the NIST isa cassette for DNA samples that could be loaded into a machine whichwould sequence the material, display the results immediately on acomputer screen, and then transfer the data to a patient's records. Aproduct such as this is technologically feasible within five years,according to NIST.NIST spokesman Michael Newman said the Advanced TechnologyProgram was established in 1988 by an act of Congress with the goal ofjump-starting commercial development for risky but potentially criticaltechnologies that were languishing in companies. "The idea is that withassistance from the government, we can get these innovative buteconomically unfeasible or risky development projects off the shelves,"Newman told BioWorld. "These technologies need a shot in the arm."The ever-increasing budget of NIST's Advanced Technology Program,Newman said, is concrete evidence of the Clinton administration'scommitment to cutting-edge technologies. The program's budget hasgrown from $10 million in 1991 to $200 million in 1994. PresidentClinton has proposed that spending for fiscal year 1995 be set at $451million.Starting later this year, companies can submit grant proposals to theAdvanced Technology Program, to be funded on a 50-50 split basiswith NIST. The proposals will be reviewed by experts both inside andoutside of government. "The review of grant proposals is stringent andstrictly confidential due to the proprietary nature of companyinformation," said Newman.The four other areas targeted by NIST for the next five years includedeveloping a health care information infrastructure ($185 million),manufacturing composite structures such as lighter automobiles andlonger-lasting bridges and roads ($160 million), developingcomponent-based software ($150 million), and developing computer-integrated manufacturing for electronics ($105 million).

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

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