Participants in the GCAT Project take a look behind the scenes

- Institutional, Projects, Research

How do they do it?  How do they get genetic information from a blood sample?  How do you manage the genetic information of 20,000 people? How do you get to understand all this information so it can be used for research?  These are some of the questions asked by GCAT participants while visiting the National Centre for Genomics Analysis- Centre for Genomic Regulation (CNAG-CRG) and Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (BSC), both centres are collaborating with the project.  These questions now have answers.

The visitors are volunteer participants in the GCAT Project who won a lottery held for all the people who answered the first follow-up questionnaire on health and daily routine.  During the visit the researcher Julie Blanc, manager of the Sample Preparation Team at the Centre explained the whole process, from when they receive the samples to how they obtain the DNA sequence.  She gave a quick review of the history of sequencing, quick but breath-taking, up to now, when New Generation Sequencing allows us to reduce the costs and time needed for the process.  However, "it is not all in the genes, that is why the information provided by projects such as the GCAT is so important for comparing the genetic and environmental influences," Blanc explained.

And once we have the sequence?  The GCAT scientists take the information to the BSC to analyse the genomic sequences obtained from the samples.  The visitors were able to see first-hand the MareNostrum, the supercomputer installed in the Torre Girona and where their genetic information has been processed along with data from research from areas as diverse as Earth Sciences, Computing Science or Astrophysics.

A long-term Project

Our daily habits have a great effect on how our genes behave, affecting wellbeing and when and how we might develop an illness, in other words, how we live our lives.  Only the participants themselves can help us to understand what their genes are saying, by interpreting changes during the years since they started their collaboration with GCAT.  Knowing about changes in lifestyle, diet and physical activity as well as health issues during this period is the key to the project.