In April, the Department of Energy announced that it will give a $9 million (US) grant to a private, nonprofit institute in Maryland to decode the genome of every organism found in the Sargasso Sea, a body of water covering two million square miles in the North Atlantic. Covered by algae, encased by numerous currents that keep it relatively immobile, the Sargasso is essentially a sea unto itself.
It's a good thing that the DOE is awarding this project. As proteomics and systems biology nudge genomics out of the limelight, and, with the human genome project now complete, some huge project worthy of keeping all those genome sequencers humming had to be found.
Not that the DOE didn't have lots of contenders: Examiners pored over hundreds of other qualified and intriguing grant applications. The following just barely missed the cut:
Applicant: J. Herman Missermesser, PhD, and his cast of thousands
Institution: GRAFT and its junior partner (Genomic Research Association for Fortune Telling, along with that British place, the Well-Content Trust)
Objective: To sequence the genome of every organism in the biota of the Pacific Ocean--while we sleep
Expected Date of Completion: Half the time those other guys can do it in
Monetary Request: $4.5 million
Abstract: We will sequence the entire biota of the Pacific Ocean in our sleep, with our hands tied behind our backs, blindfolded, using only crude stone instruments, while reciting anagrams of sentences from the United States Constitution. In addition, not only will all of our results be open to everyone, we'll even pay people to read the data.
Applicant: Thomas White BS, Karen White BA, Spot White, Fluffy White
Institution: X-FILES (Extraordinarily, Fantastically Light in the LoafErS), located at 313 Valley Oak Lane, apartment 3D
Objective: A Complete Decoding of All the Genomes in the Whole Universe
Expected Date of Completion: Not known at this time
Monetary Request: About a million bucks
Abstract: We propose to apply for a grant that will allow us to buy a lot of machines with blinking lights that make whirring noises. We'll also need a lot of test tubes. Then we'll need to hire a bunch of workers and the requisite number of lab coats to uniform them. Then we will begin the process of decoding the genome of every living organism in the entire universe. Due to the vast nature of this project, we can't give an expected completion date. Luckily, due to his recent downsizing as a Silicon Maintenance Engineer (in which he applied precise amounts of aquatic solution to vitreous scientific instruments to reduce accumulated detritus) at the local university, principal investigator Thomas White has lots of time on his hands.
Applicant: Red "Yahoo" Baxter
Institution: SCAM (Scat from Cattle Analyzed against Man)
Objective: A comparative survey of all organisms found in bovine excreta and syntenic genetic material found in the human genome
Expected Date of Completion: June 2004
Monetary Request: $3.2 million
Abstract: We propose to take a sample of bovine scat (BS), and determine every living organism therein. Then, by using various assays and arrays, we aim to compare the human genome (most likely of an elected official) with the BS genome. We hypothesize that there will be close to 99% synteny.
Applicant: Count Roquefort Camembert-Parmigiana et al.
Institution: PAPER (Padding All the Pockets of European Researchers)
Objective: To finance the careers of a few dozen PhDs throughout Europe
Expected Date of Completion: As far into the future as possible
Monetary Request: ¤9 million
Abstract: We intend to form a committee to establish guidelines to format a proposal to delineate responsibilities to create an action plan to calibrate our mechanisms to study a feasibility projection to write a memo to explore potentialities on forming a committee. In order to achieve our goals, we have included three scientists from every EU member country, two scientists from every EU candidate country and one non-European scientist from every developing nation, with extra scientists from any country in a conflict zone where landmines are present, and one more scientist who comes from a country with cuddly farm animals. We will need to find a peaceful, centralized location, preferably with no less than the top three resorts in Europe.
Applicant: Sir Georges Superior et al.
Institution: NAGGERS (Not-As-Gifted GEnomic ResearcherS)
Objective: To determine the genetic basis of the wide interstitial spaces between dendrites and the lack of synaptic firings in neuronal conglomerations located within the skull cavity of Homo gullibilus
Monetary Request: $9 million would do just fine
Abstract: It frequently has been noted that the neuronal activity of H. gullibilus is far sparser than the more common Homo sapiens. We aim to determine the genetic basis for the clearly substandard neuroactivity in this species and possibly find a therapeutic agent that would cause synaptic firings to become more frequent and thus allow H. gullibilus to make more rational decisions based on scientific evidence and not just handing out money to people they like, who have really goofy ideas, which are far inferior to our own, more serious projects. So there.
Sam Jaffe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.