About the E. coli Genome Project at UW-Madison

The E. coli Genome Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had its genesis in an editorial by Frederick R. Blattner in the November 18, 1983 issue of Science, in which he raised the idea of completely sequencing the E. coli (and human) genomes:

"At present the worldwide accomplishment in DNA sequence amounts to 2.3 x 10e6 base pairs, representing 2500 individual sequences. It is now becoming more or less routine to sequence completely the DNA of whole genetic entities ranging from single genes through multigene families to simple life forms such as viruses and phage. Currently the largest single DNA molecule to have been sequenced is the phage lambda genome (48502 base pairs). We are beginning to recognize that determination of the total genetic specification of more advanced life forms may be a possibility in the relatively near future. Extension of this principle to bacteria (genome size 5 x 10e6 base pairs) -- the simplest free living forms -- would require an increase of the worldwide technical effort by only a factor of 2. Some three orders of magnitude more would be needed to progress to the total human genome."

-- F. R. Blattner (1983) "Biological Frontiers" Science 222(4625), 719-720. [not indexed in PubMed]

In that same year we began isolation of an overlapping lambda clonebank of E. coli K-12 strain MG1655. Those clones served as the starting material in our initial efforts to sequence the whole genome. Improvements in sequencing technology have since reached the point where whole-genome sequencing of microbial genomes is routine, and the human genome has in fact been completed. But in those early years of radioactive sequencing reactions and manual reading of autoradiographs, it was a daunting undertaking...

Upon completion of the E. coli genome sequence in 1997, we began two new projects with the aim of building on the foundation of that sequence.

We initiated additional sequencing efforts, concentrating on pathogenic members of the family Enterobacteriaceae -- to which E. coli belongs. See our Sequencing Projects pages for more information on that effort, including insights drawn from comparison of related benign and pathogenic bacteria.

On another front, we began a systematic functional characterization of E. coli K-12 genes and their regulation, using the whole genome sequence to address how the over 4000 genes of this organism act together to enable its survival in a wide range of environments. See our Functional Genomics pages for progress with that endeavor.

The initial genome project was funded by the NIH Human Genome Project, precursor to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

Our bacterial pathogens studies were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Our functional genomics studies were funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).

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