Life Technologies' latest DNA sequencer targets informatics 'bottlenecks'

Life Technologies ($LIFE) set the genomics world abuzz today with the announcement of its latest DNA sequencing machine based on the semiconductor tech that Life scooped up in its acquisition of Ion Torrent, saying that the bench top machine could read an entire genome in less than a day for $1,000—the target price that experts have said for years would take genomics to new heights. The maker also said the advanced machine, called the Ion Proton Sequencer, provides a tonic for IT headaches involved in analyzing sequencing data.

Illumina ($ILMN) responded with its own announcement today of its new HiSeq 2500 sequencing system, saying that the machine can sequence a genome in a day. Both Illumina and Life Technologies' stocks were trading up after the announcements Tuesday.

Amid the roar about the $1,000 genome, or at least getting close, the promised informatics advantages of the Ion Proton and associated software shouldn't be overlooked. The ability to efficiently analyze sequencing data is important because the goal is not to sequence genomes, but to use the data to discover breakthroughs in healthcare, energy and other fields. According to Life Technologies, the machine and the Ion Reporter software "are designed to analyze a single genome in one day on a stand-alone server—eliminating the informatics bottleneck and high-capital, IT investment associated with optical-based sequencers."

Here, the company appears to take dead aim at rival Illumina, whose sequencing machines use optical tech to read genomes, and adds that the optical-based systems carry hefty IT costs to complete the analysis of genomes.

At the same time, the Ion Proton machine appears to be advancing rapidly, following the pace of advancement that is typical of the semiconductor tech on which it is built.

"Just six months after our first semiconductor sequencing chip was released, people used it to solve the German E. coli outbreak, sequencing the toxic strain in just a couple of hours," Dr. Jonathan M. Rothberg, founder and CEO of Life Technologies' Ion Torrent unit, said in a statement. "Now, six months later we're developing a chip that's 1,000 times more powerful than that to sequence an entire human genome in about the same amount of time. That's the power that semiconductors bring to sequencing."

The plummeting cost of and increased speed of sequencing has driven up use of the technology, requiring larger IT infrastructures to manage the huge amounts of digital data. Groups that conduct sequencing require, in some cases, many petabytes of storage to corral the growing amount of information.

- here's Life Technologies' release
- see Illumina's release
- check out Matthew Herper's piece
- and Reuters' article

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