Thirty years of research excellence and discovery

The Biomolecular Resource Facility team in 2018 The Biomolecular Resource Facility team in 2013 Dr Peter Milburn has worked at the BRF since it started!

The Biomolecular Resource Facility is turning 30! The Facility, better known as the BRF has had a remarkable impact for researchers and patients, at ANU and far beyond.

It all started in 1988 when the (then called) ANU Protein/DNA Facility was established, providing services such as protein biology and genomics. ANU researchers were the main users at first but as the reputation of the facility grew, CSIRO and UC-based scientists started using the BRF services too. And it did not stop there: the BRF now supports 128 research groups Australia-wide!

Over the years, the focus of the BRF has broadened to include High Throughput DNA sequencing services. The Facility now also hosts the ANU Centre for Therapeutic Discovery, allowing researchers to identify novel treatments for cancer and other diseases.

The Facility is involved in large scale projects that are currently changing lives for Canberrans and Australians. One of these projects is the Canberra Clinical Genomics Initiative, run in collaboration with ACT Health, to help diagnose patients with complex diseases. The BRF also supports the Australian Phenomics Facility Genentech project, which was recently involved in discovering genes involved in the onset of sepsis.

But medical research is not the only kind of research the BRF is involved in: the Facility helps scientists working in areas ranging from photosynthesis to crop improvement, mammal conservation or protein engineering, to name a few. A perk of working on such a diverse range of topics? BRF researchers are included on scientific papers focusing on genome biology, cancer research or immunology but also on plant diseases, agriculture practices, ecology or the impact of climate change in Antarctica. 

Working with so many groups on such a variety of projects leads to the production of colossal amounts of data. The longest running equipment at the BRF, the Life Technologies 3730XL sequencer, purchased in 2003 and still heavily used, has over the last fifteen years processed over 1,500,000 samples. That’s right, this machine analyses roughly a hundred thousand samples a year… Quite impressive, isn’t it? But this is nothing compared to one of the machines purchased recently:  the Illumina NovaSeq, that allows cost-effective human genome and clinical sequencing, can produce up to 250TB of data per year! To process and analyse that much data, the BRF is now a constant user of Super Computer Facilities, such as the National Computational Infrastructure.

To celebrate this big milestone (or so the author of this article was told), the team bought two new instruments to meet the needs of the local community. One of these machines, the 10x Chromium system is especially used for single cell sequencing. This ground breaking technique is used to understand the impact of genetic variability on gene expression at the cell level. Thanks to this state-of-the-art equipment, the BRF will be able to even better assist researchers working on cell development and/or disease biology.

Happy 30 to the BRF and all their hard-working staff members! And here is to another 30 years of discovery!