Why: Quick, cheap DNA sequencing will lead to new diagnostic test and targeted treatments.
Key innovation: Its desktop gene-sequencing machines costs $50,000, about a 10th as much as other machines.
Last year, Life acquired Ion Torrent, a startup that has developed a desktop device that reads the sequence of DNA using semiconductor technology. At the heart of Ion Torrent's technology is a chip that holds an array of 1.5 million sensors. To sequence a strand of DNA, the machine synthesizes a complementary strand, sequentially attempting to add each of the four bases that make up DNA one by one to the well. When the correct base is incorporated into the growing sequence, it triggers a chemical reaction that releases a positively charged hydrogen atom, which is detected by the sensor. A computer stitches together the sequence by integrating these signals with knowledge of when each base was flowed through the chip.
In December, Life launched the Personal Genome Machine, its first product based on the Ion Torrent technology. The device sells for $50,000, about one-tenth the cost of sequencers from companies like Illumina and Pacific Biosciences. This price should put it within reach of researchers who now have to send samples out to be analyzed by outside labs.
The benchtop device, which even has a dock where researchers can download data to their iPod, is designed for medium-sized sequencing projects like microbial genomes rather than full human genome sequencing.
Challenges and Next Steps:
While the sequencing machines are cheap, the cost of sequencing per base pair is higher than for other instruments because the chips cost $250 and can be used only once. The company believes the price will drop as it produces a higher volume of chips