The technique was once considered too error-prone to be useful, but a computational fix could bring it into the world of medical research.
By Karen Weintraub
Why: DNA sequencing provides a way to detect microbes in the environment and monitor the spread of viruses in our bodies.
Key innovation: Its sequencing machine can read single strands of DNA in real time.
The company has a way to continuously record the sequence of individual DNA molecules replicating in real time. This allows its machines to read longer strands of DNA molecules, which makes it easier to quickly assemble the pieces into a complete genome.
Fast, cheap sequencing has broad applications—from sequencing cancer genomes and infectious diseases to use in clinical diagnostics and even crop breeding. The company is selling its devices to research institutes and pharmaceutical and agricultural companies.
In 2010, the company shipped its first sequencing machines to a limited number of research institutions in order to get feedback on its design before the product gets a full commercial launch this year. The company also initiated a research project that takes advantage of the speed of its machines to monitor the spread of microbes and diseases in the environment.
Challenges and Next Steps:
Pacific Biosciences is developing its single-molecule technology for applications beyond DNA sequencing, including methylation sequencing, a chemical modification to DNA and RNA sequencing, and real-time observation of protein translation. RNA sequencing, for example, could be used to quickly identify viruses.