Greg Crawford, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and other researchers at Duke have been awarded a $6.5 million federal grant for human genome research.

Duke received the award, which will be spread over four years, from the National Human Genome Research Institute. The NHGRI is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The Duke grant is part of more than $80 million in awards announced this week as part of the ENCyclopedia of DNA Elements or ENCODE project.

The program is designed to study what the NHGRI describes as the “entire human instruction book” as included in the genome.

“While the sequencing of the human genome was a major scientific achievement, it was just the first step toward the ultimate goal of using genomic information to diagnose, treat and prevent disease,” the NHGRI said in announcing the grants. “In recent years, researchers have made major strides in using DNA sequence data to help find genes, which are the parts of the genome that code for proteins.
“The protein-coding component of these genes, however, makes up just a small fraction of the human genome — about 1.5 percent,” the institute added. “There is strong evidence that other parts of the genome have important functions, but very little information exists about where these other functional elements are located and how they work. The ENCODE project aims to address this critical goal of genomics research.”

Crawford, who joined the Duke faculty in 2006, was a post-doctorate fellow in the lab of genome mapping pioneer Francis Collins at the NHGRI. He received a PhD from the University of Michigan in 2001.

The Duke team will focus on identification of functional elements within chromatin, which is a complex of DNA and proteins that makes up chromosomes, according to the NHGRI.