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Company claims to have sequenced man's genome cheaply

February 8, 2008 By Erika Check Hayden This article courtesy of Nature News.

Critics question accuracy and US$100,000 price tag.

A company based in San Diego, California, claims to have sequenced an individual human genome cheaper and faster than ever before.

The company, Illumina, said this week that it had sequenced DNA from the genome of an anonymous African man in “a matter of weeks” for US$100,000. This compares with last year’s announcement that 454 Life Sciences in Branford, Connecticut, had sequenced the genome of Nobel prize winner James Watson in two months for under $1 million. In October, Chinese officials also announced they had sequenced an Asian man's genome for about $1 million.

The completion of the human-genome reference sequence, announced in 2001, took more than a decade and cost $3 billion.

But Illumina’s announcement came before any of its supporting data were made available, leaving scientists eager to see more details before commenting on the significance of the effort. Many point out that the company has an interest in selling its Genome Analyzer, one in a crowded field of high-speed sequencing machines.

“There seems to be this trend to issue press releases with major announcements to sell instruments without publishing papers,” says J. Craig Venter, who last year published an analysis of his genome in the journal PLoS Biology1. “So it’s hard to evaluate the claims, for instance, on the cost of sequencing.”

For example, it is not clear how Illumina’s $100,000 price tag compares with 454’s $1 million tally, because neither company has explained what labour, reagents or analysis were included in these totals. Venter has said that his genome cost $70 million. 454 and the Beijing Genomics Institute, which sequenced the genome for the Han Chinese man, have not yet published peer-reviewed papers describing their work.

Illumina said more details would be provided today (Friday) at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference in Marco Island, Florida.

Meanwhile, its competitors sought to downplay the announcement. “It is meaningless to compare performance done internally at Illumina in 2008 with what we did on our production instruments one year ago,” says 454’s vice president for research and development, Michael Egholm. “I am certain that the field is eager to assess data quality, biases, and missing parts of the Illumina genome once the study is published.”

In the constant drive to bring down the cost and up the speed of sequencing, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding the development of technologies that might allow $1,000 genomes. And a $10 million prize is on offer to anyone who can sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days.


  1. Levy, S. et al PLoS Biol. 5, e254 (2007).


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