Quest for better DNA sequencing techniques continues

7 August 2014

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has injected $14.5 million into the development of new and improved DNA sequencing technologies.

Funding awards of 2-4 years duration will be given to eight different research groups. These are the last of the Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program awards from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). 

In 2004, when the programme began, the cost of sequencing a genome was measured in the tens of millions of dollars. However, by January 2014, the company Illumina claimed that their latest sequencing instruments could deliver the sought after ‘$1000 genome’.

The focus of much of the recent funding remains firmly on nanopore technology which has featured in every round of grants since 2004 and applications of which are already reaching the marketplace; Oxford Nanopore’s miniaturised commercial nanopore sequencing system MinION is currently available to selected researchers via an early access programme, and rival Illumina is also working on nanopore based systems. However, some of the new funding awards are for alternative sequencing approaches and technologies to support and improve sequencing.

More affordable genome sequencing will be one of the key pillars of genomic medicine. NHGRI Genome Technology Program Director Jeffery Schloss said: “Despite discussion about approaching the goal of sequencing a genome for only $1000, many challenges remain in terms of containing costs and achieving a high quality of DNA sequencing data”.

Alternatively Bio-IT World report, the fact that these are the last awards may be bittersweet, as future funding in the field of genomics may be better utilised in other directions such as improving the annotation of the genomes sequenced.

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