Three\'s company

1000 Genomes Project welcomes Illumina, Applied Bio and 454

Jeffrey Bouley
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced in June that three companies known for pioneering development of new sequencing technologies have joined the 1000 Genomes Project, an international effort launched in January to build the most detailed map to date of human genetic variation as a tool for medical research.

The three new partners in the cause are Branford, Conn.-based 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company; Foster City, Calif.-based Applied Biosystems, an Applera Corp. business; and San Diego-based Illumina Inc.

The three sequencing leaders are the first for-profit companies to join what had until now been a coalition of various academic, public and non-profit organizations—most notably the Beijing Genomics Institute, Shenzhen, China; the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, U.K.; and the NHGRI.

"We were actually very interested in joining the project even before it was announced; when all we had were rumors," recalls Dr. Francisco de la Vega, vice president for SOLiD System applications and bioinformatics at Applied Biosystems. "As for why our three companies are coming in now, this has been a very academic consortium. I think they were concerned about companies joining and whether they'd have similar research goals or just commercial ones. I know we allayed a lot of their fears by assuring them that we wanted to learn from this and also contribute to the acceleration of research in this area."

"We're proud to be part of this effort and the only reason we weren't on board at the start is because it wasn't until now that we were invited," echoes 454 Life Sciences spokesperson Brendon Hill, adding, "This is the first time I know of that these three companies and their technologies will be going directly head-to-head like this. We're looking forward to seeing the relative strengths, advantages and differences between our sequencing technologies."

Illumina Vice President and Chief Scientist Dr. David Bentley, who participated in the International HapMap Project, notes there is great value for companies to participate in international consortia because they produce large datasets that are valuable to the scientific and medical communities while promoting the rapid release of the data.

Some of the major academic contributors who preceded the three companies in the consortium include organizations conducting NHGRI-supported work through the institute's Large-Scale Sequencing Network, such as the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.; and the Washington University Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Given the rapid pace of sequencing technology development, the cost of the entire effort is difficult to estimate, participants point out, but it is expected to be about $60 million total. The sequence data provided by the three companies are estimated to be worth approximately $700,000 for the pilot phase alone.

"The additional sequencing capacity and expertise provided by the three companies in the pilot phase will enable us to explore the human genome with even greater depth and speed than we had originally envisioned, and will help us to optimize the design of the full study to follow," says Dr. Richard Durbin, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who is co-chair of the consortium.

The companies will get a chance to test their technologies on hundreds of samples of human DNA, he adds, and the project will obtain data and insight to achieve its goals in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Applying the new sequencing technologies is like building bigger telescopes, explains Dr. Francis S. Collins, NHGRI director. Just as astronomers see farther and more clearly outside our solar system with bigger telescopes, the results of the 1000 Genomes Project will provide greater resolution as we view genetic blueprints.

 

Jeffrey Bouley

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