Sequencing, Finishing and Analysis in the Future Meeting (SFAF 2013)

Day 1 at SFAF, and already a whole lot to be excited about. Richard Gibbs, Director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center launched the conference with a talk about genomic futurism and predicted widespread access to DNA testing. This was followed by a series of tech talks from Jim Knight (Roche), Haley Fiske (Illumina), Kelly Hoon (Life Technologies), and Stephen Turner (Pacific Biosystems).

We learned that Roche 454 was working on longer read lengths and higher accuracy. The Proton platform will be releasing a Proton III chip that will allow 600 M reads. While the Proton chip can only handle 200 bp reads, they are working on new enzymes to allow for 400 bp reads. 400 bp is already available on the Ion PGM. PacBio is working on polymerase enzymes with protection groups to prevent photo-damage. These new enzymes should allow for a 10-fold increase in sequencing throughput. Illumina was pushing the envelope on the MiSeq with 2X300 available before the end of the year.

As usual, the much-hyped “NGS Technology Panel Discussion” delivered. Essentially Knight, Fiske, Hoon and Turner were sat down next to each other, followed by the audience being goaded to as ask critical questions that would “hopefully put them against each other”. Richard Gibbs framed the discussion saying that while throughput was making everyone bleary eyed, there was still a long way to go to making NGS more accurate, “we need better data”. He also suggested a HLA sequencing & assembly (human leukocyte antigen) bake-off between all the platforms. Ion and PacBio were already doing HLA sequencing internally, Illumina and Roche are going to look into participating in the comparison. Gibbs offered to mediate.

Fiske made an interesting statement during the panel discussion: develop new and innovative enzymes and library prep technologies, “one of the four major platforms will purchase you”. Responding to a statement from the crowd that sequencing costs were not going down, Fiske mentioned possible decreases by ASHG or AGBT. This resulted in a question from the conference organizers to the audience, “What is the most important area you’d like to see improvement”? By a show of hands, the 250 person crowd responded in the following order: 1) read length & accuracy, 2) speed, 3) price, 4) throughput. Johar Ali, an organizer from the OICR responded to the vote by saying that improvements are specific to platforms. Roche 454 needs to reduce costs, PacBio needs to improve throughput, Illumina and Ion need tighter sizing and better accuracy. This lead to Fiske asking the crowd what they think Illumina should develop: smaller and faster sequencing, think sequencing on smart phones, or supercomputers with tons of output. One person in the crowd said, “think emerging markets, smart phone!”, several others retorted, “both”. All four mentioned that their companies were working on nanopore technology. Fiske said that they have licensed technology from Oxford Nanopore, but they are not sharing news or updates, “mum is the word”. Turner said that if nanopore technology becomes a reality, they would be best positioned to take advantage of the technology. Knight mentioned that Roche heavily invested with IBM on silicon nanopore technology, but they have pulled back recently. He reflected personally that he saw nanopore technology becoming a reality; it was just a matter of time. Also reflected that sequencing had a future in diagnostics and Roche was going to be in the sequencing business for the long term. While the panel discussion ended without any arm-to-arm conflict, we did learn a lot of new things that we didn’t hear from their rehearsed talks:

  • All four platforms are actively trying to increase their read lengths (although we didn’t see significant guidance beyond Ion’s 400 bp reads)
  • Haley mentioned that Illumina’s latest aquisition of Moleculo technology might one day replace current Mate-pair library prep (if prices can be lowered).
  • MiSeq DX was pulled back because Illumina has been able to increase MiSeq output. A clinical instrument will require a locked down platform.
  • Turner said that he expects 30,000 PacBio base pairs in 3 years. Shearing technologies and polymerases would have to be improved for better-read lengths.
  • PGM can produce >2G aligned Q20 bases with even coverage (E. coli) using their 318, 400 bp chip.
  • Fiske said that Illumina spends 25% of revenue on R&D, Life Tech and Thermo spend 5% and 3% respectively.
  • Illumina needs help with better and higher fidelity polymerases. Suggested that Illumina would consider purchasing companies who have breakthrough technologies related to polymerases.

The day concluded with talks on:

  • Genome mapping in nanochannel arrays for assembly
  • 1000 cancer gene panels for clinical NGS
  • Library construction from low-input and FFPE samples
  • Direct selection of microbiome DNA
  • Quantitative RNA-Seq using molecular indices
  • Q60 PacBio long reads using Quiver

The meeting schedule and talks should be posted here shortly. Follow #SFAF2013 for the latest news. If you’d like to meet us at the meeting, tweet @genohub or send us an emailLooking forward to day 2 !

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