students spend more of their time investigating “more interesting things” such as looking at gene function and gene expression and how those relate to the important traits, phenotypes, or diseases that we are interested in, be they in agriculture or in human health.
Others argued, however, that a university setting could be beneficial for carrying out sequencing. “One of the downfalls of outsourcing all sequencing activity,” said one audience member “is the fact that you cannot encourage small laboratories to train the next generation of scientists. You also discourage people from using those data because they don’t feel ownership or a tie to it. I understand the efficiencies of outsourcing, but there needs to be a happy medium.”
A second audience member concurred. “Some of these species that we are talking about—cattle and pigs included—don’t really have a community of people built up who are working with these things. There needs to be a balance between outsourcing and how much you give to academic institutions to encourage that community development in graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and the like. There needs to be some recognition of the fact that the community is not widely developed, and it’s in everyone’s best interests that the community be developed.”
But, said Claire Fraser, president and director of TIGR, there does not necessarily have to be a choice between high efficiency and training new scientists. “What’s been set up at Baylor (College of Medicine) and what’s been set up at Washington University represent excellent examples of how you can create high-throughput facilities to get this work done at the most efficient cost yet, at the same time, train students and train post-doctoral fellows. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.”
Ultimately, Wyse concluded, those calling for a centrist approach seem to have a valid argument. “There is a balance between doing routine sequencing in an academic setting with faculty and graduate students and post-docs, versus contracting it out to TIGR or someone else.”
But for the parts of the project with more intellectual content, most seemed to agree that it makes sense to use university researchers. “It’s been my philosophy,” Wyse said, “that universities are better positioned to do the competitive-grant functional-genomics work and the like, as opposed to the basic sequencing. It seems to be a better fit with the university environment as well as its reward system.”