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Department of Defense grant will establish a next-generation DNA sequencing system

Published date: October 10, 2014

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded Virginia State University (VSU) researcher Dr. Xianfa Xie a $485,616 grant to establish a next-generation DNA sequencing system at VSU to support research in genomics. Dr. Xie, an assistant professor in VSU’s department of biology conducts research on biofuel production, microbiomes and human health, cancer epigenomics and genomic evolution.  

 In the area of biofuel research, Dr. Xie has been studying microbes that can break down lignin and cellulose, the most abundant plant materials found in the stems, roots, leaves of all plants and all the other non-edible parts of crop plants. Biofuel production from these materials will significantly reduce the cost of biofuel and alleviate the ecological, economic and social problems of using corn seeds for biofuel production.

 Dr. Xie’s research also focuses on microbiomes and human health.  A microbiome is a community of microorganisms in a certain place.  On average, the human body contains about 10 times more microbial cells than human cells, primarily in the digestive system.  These microorganisms play a vital role in human health. 

VSU research studies how microbiomes in the digestive system are shaped by diet, living environment and genetic heritage and how the microbial changes affect human health, particularly in relation to obesity and diabetes.

The third area of research supported by the DoD grant also relates to human health. Dr. Xie and his group are studying the molecular mechanisms by which chemicals from food, drinks, household and air pollutants cause diseases like cancers.  Particularly, his group is studying how these chemicals could cause epigenetic changes and gene expressional changes at the genomic level, which, in turn, could disrupt the normal cell cycles and cause cancer.

Once established, the state-of-the-art facility will benefit other researchers at VSU by significantly improving the research capability in genomics and facilitating interdisciplinary research among biology, agriculture, computer science, mathematics and engineering. It will also strengthen STEM-A education at VSU by providing students with exposure and training t in the use of the leading technologies in the biomedical and agricultural fields, as well as in informatics. 

The project will run through April 30, 2015. With logistical support, the facility can also be used in the future to provide services to other research institutions and a variety of customers.

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