Sequencing gets physical

The February issue of BioTechniques includes my TechNews feature on non-optical (i.e., physical) DNA sequencing methods, “Making Contact with Sequencing’s Fourth Generation.” Hard on the heels of Life Technologies’ launch of the Ion Torrent Ion PGM sequencer last December, the article takes a look at the technology underlying that device (it’s basically the world’s smallest pH meter), and electron microscopy- and nanopore-based methods as well.

With an instrument cost of just $50,000 (and a per-run cost of about $500) the Ion PGM, says the Broad Institute’s Chad Nusbaum, could “democratize” DNA sequencing, filling a need for those researchers who have neither the need for, nor the access to the gigabase-spewing behemoths currently dominating the next-gen market. Other physical methods, though still in development, could similarly upend the sequencing industry. But don’t count existing technologies out just yet, says Harvard geneticist George Church; Life Technologies, Illumina, 454, and the like still have some juice left in them, too. Church cites five niches that could help a new technology establish a beachhead: cheaper instruments, lower costs per run, longer reads, faster speed, and portability. “But to really capture the market,” he says, “it’s going to be dollars per base pair.”

~ by jeffreyperkel on February 4, 2011.

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