HERCULES, Calif.—Analyzing groups of single cells, rather than bulk tissue samples, is for many scientists an invaluable research method of gaining genomic insights. Yet analysis of large quantities of single cells remains costly and time-consuming. A new partnership between two companies that produce research technologies aims to streamline the process by creating a more sophisticated workflow solution.
Bio-Rad Laboratories and Illumina announced last month an exclusive partnership focused on developing the most comprehensive next-generation sequencing workflow for single-cell analysis. The companies say they will release a product late this year or early next year that enables high-throughput sequencing of thousands of individual cells.
“The Bio-Rad/Illumina products will be the first end-to-end solution for single-cell genomic analysis,” Dr. Viresh Patel, Bio-Rad marketing director, tells DDNews. “More importantly, our solution will be affordable, yet also scalable and flexible to enable both standard and high-throughput studies.”
Patel says that the new technology could streamline many areas of research that are currently of high interest, including the process of unraveling complex gene expression signatures within mixed cell populations.
Although single-cell analysis has drawn more interest in recent years, most scientific studies still rely on analysis of bulk tissue samples that contain multiple cell types with varying functions. There are drawbacks to this approach that are particularly problematic in some research areas. When scientists average gene expression across the cells in bulk tissue it becomes difficult to identify differences between them and to understand the role of cell variation.
Single-cell sequencing has the potential to avoid this problem and provide deeper and more precise insights into cell function, disease progression and therapeutic response. Such data can be important in studies of neurological tissues, for example, which have hundreds of specialized cell types.
Illumina and Bio-Rad say their new workflow system for single-cell analysis will combine Bio-Rad’s droplet partitioning technology and Illumina’s sequencing technologies. The result will be a product optimized to isolate and barcode single cells for downstream sequencing, with data analysis conducted using Illumina’s cloud-based genomics program called BaseSpace. In only a few minutes the product will be able to isolate significantly larger numbers of single cells than currently available commercial solutions.
“Bio-Rad’s droplet digital technology and fluidics expertise will enable the rapid isolation of single cells and oligonucleotide-containing beads that, in combination with dedicated reagents, produce thousands of single cell RNA-Seq libraries for NGS,” Patel tells DDNews.
Christian Henry, Illumina’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said in a public statement that the partnership with Bio-Rad has the potential to support groundbreaking advances in gene expression by serving a substantial market for single-cell NGS.
Illumina’s effort to develop a single-cell analysis solution is one of several initiatives intended to expand its product portfolio. In recent months, the company announced the launch of several products and initiatives to develop new products, including a new sequencing product called the MiniSeq Sequencing System, a high-throughput array format product called Infinium XT and the development of a new semiconductor-based sequencing system.
The MiniSeq System, which is expected to be commercially available early this year, is designed to enable both experienced and new-to-NGS researchers to benefit from Illumina’s sequencing technologies. The company says the product provides quick results and an easy-to-use library-to-results workflow with onboard data analysis for numerous assays.
Infinium XT, which is especially well suited for agrigenomics applications, is a new member of Illumina’s Infinium product family that is on track to be commercially available in the third quarter of this year. The product is Illumina’s highest throughput array format and is designed to enable genotyping on larger numbers of samples, testing up to 50,000 markers per sample and enabling laboratories to scale up to one million samples or more per year.
Illumina also recently announced the launch of Project Firefly, its effort to develop a new sequencing system with a low cost and easy installation that it predicts will “democratize” next-generation sequencing. The project is expected to eventually result in a semiconductor-based sequencing system with a raw error rate of less than one percent.
Bio-Rad announced another collaboration last month that will leverage its technologies to advance research in a very different area: improving the safety of the world’s food supply. Bio-Rad will join IBM and Mars as a member of the newly established Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, an effort to combine advanced genomics with new informatics tools to better detect hazards in the food supply chain.
“Bio-Rad will bring a new dimension to the consortium effort with their suite of advanced testing techniques and equipment,” said Harold Schmitz, chief science officer for Mars, in a prepared statement. “This type of uncommon collaboration will drive even greater capacity, insight and capability in food safety science and help us achieve critical breakthroughs.”