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Business Growth, Life Science

The Business Of Sequencing

Contributed by Alejandro Gutierrez

One of the most dynamic sectors in high tech these days is the field of genome sequencing. There is a high profile technological race to reduce the cost of sequencing and open up new and promising areas of research as well as clinical applications. In a medium rife with hyperbole and overstatement, one can still repeat with a straight face that this technology, and the knowledge it will unlock, is going to change our world.

Beyond the intense day-to-day competition among firms lies a very complex industry: the business of developing and selling DNA sequencing instruments and related services. Over time I will look at this industry from a business perspective, focusing on strategy, competitors and customers. For example, I’ll consider the prospect of commoditization for sequencing technologies and rumors of impending doom that, I think, are premature and exaggerated.

I won’t go much into technology, science, or ethical and legal aspects, which are covered extensively in other places (see below). Some understanding of the underlying technologies and science will be helpful but not necessary in reading the posts. For those looking for a general introduction to DNA sequencing, below are several websites and resources that I have found useful. Suggestions for others are welcome, as are notices of broken links.

Basics – the stuff I learned in high-school and then forgot, and other good general background on sequencing:

  • DNA Interactive – it starts simple and then gets fairly complex; covers many of the basic and not-so basic concepts, and illustrates many of them with animation. Includes a section on sequencing. Additional entertainment value is provided by interviews with star scientists and others. It can take several hours to get through all the material.
  • Nature Genetics’ “User’s Guide to the Human Genome” is a free supplement published in 2003.
  • Genome News Network – “What’s a Genome” – reviews some of the basic concepts, and then provides a mostly layman’s-language description of sequencing (focused on the original approaches and technologies used for the Human Genome Project).
  • Genome Sequence Assembly Primer – this short guide focuses on the assembly of the genome from sequencing outputs; tends to be more technical.
  • Genomics and Its Impact on Science and Society– a broad but relatively shallow exposition of human genomics that touches on science, technology, applications, social and ethical issues.
  • Genome.govoffers various informative “Fact Sheets” focused on the science (genetics and genomics), as well as a “Talking Glossary” with over 200 terms.

Next-generation sequencing – the technologies and the companies:

Specialized sites:

  • SeqAnswers – a forum with a scientific bent; deals with scientific and technical issues of using sequencing instruments, hopes “to become the central location for next generation sequencing technology discussion and education.”
  • Map of Sequencing FacilitiesPathogens: Genes and Genomes (also a blog) has a very cool interactive map that tallies the placement of next generation sequencing instruments around the world.
  • A compilation by Nature Methods from 2008 of companies offering DNA sequencing products (includes instruments and service providers).
  • A somewhat dated comparison of next-generation sequencing platforms on another blog, PolITiGenomics. The comparison covers platforms currently in production; newer platforms are also evaluated in other posts as they are announced (thanks to blog author David Dooling for his clarification).
  • In Sequence – the top industry rag, essential reading; requires a subscription.
  • BioIT World – offers relevant coverage on sequencing, though perhaps less regularly than In Sequence.