Two UI scientists will have roles in the U.S. Department of Energy's new effort in genome sequencing. UI microbiology professors Carl Woese and Gary Olsen will participate in the $3 million Microbial Genome Initiative to analyze the genetic material in microorganisms that live in extreme conditions. The project - a spinoff from the DOE's Human Genome Program - potentially could have enormous payoffs, Woese said. Genetic information obtained in the work may give scientists insights into the nature and origin of cells and generate industrial applications, he said. Woese and Olsen will collaborate with researchers from The Institute of Genomic Research (TIGR), a non-profit facility in Maryland, under one of three related grants funded by the DOE. Microorganisms consist of two types, bacteria and archaea. In the initial grants awarded under the DOE initiative, scientists will be focusing on archaea that thrive in extremely hot temperatures. In 1977, Woese and Ralph S. Wolfe, now an emeritus professor of microbiology at the UI, identified the archaea. "This is the beginning of a new direction in biological research," Woese said. "Microbial genomes are less than 1 percent the size of the human genome, but this size is deceptive because the genes in microbial genomes are far more densely packed. So their small size belies their potential importance. "Since 100 microbial genomes could be sequenced for a fraction of the money that already has gone into the Human Genome Project, the sequencing of microbial genomes will not be a significant drain on federal resources, and the benefits derived may be enormous." The $3 billion Human Genome Project - coordinated by the DOE and the National Institutes of Health - is a 15-year effort to find the precise locations of genes on every human chromosome.