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Brief history of PCR patents, Compugen, and Solexa


The cover story for Genome Technology’s May 2005 issue focused on PCR, with a curious eye cast on surveying improvements to the technology, new applications, as well as any alternative tools on the horizon. A quick review of recent literature reveals that there’s no shortage of novel protocols for PCR, especially in the burgeoning field of microRNA analysis. Last year’s story also delved into the landscape of PCR patents, directly after the foundations of Roche’s extensive IP estate expired in March 2005. At the time, everyone wondered whether Roche’s loss would have any noticeable effects on researchers. The European equivalents of the core PCR patents expired in March of this year, but the forecast is still foggy on how the technique’s relocation into the public domain will impact the expense of its use.

In last year’s issue, we also spoke with Bowling Green State University’s Neocles Leontis, who was then just awarded a five-year NSF grant to support the creation of the RNA Ontology Consortium, an international entity tasked with the creation of a standard vocabulary for describing RNA structure. The participants, initial advisory board, and steering committee are in place, and the group plans to report on progress this June at RNA Society’s annual meeting in Seattle.

Five years ago, GT featured a cover story in which venture capitalists, financial analysts and CFOs shared their perspectives on the business of genome technology. One financial authority interviewed for the story, Nurit Benjamini, who was then a newly minted CFO at Compugen, predicted that continued investment in R&D would be a key criterion for a successful business plan. Benjamini still oversees the financial operations at Compugen, a company that has spent the past year transforming itself from a life science software provider to one that discovers and licenses potential therapeutic and diagnostic products for industry partners. Most recently, Compugen announced plans to lead an international consortium aiming to develop a platform to simulate the MAP-kinase pathway. The consortium is funded by the European Commission to the tune of 3.1 million over the next three years.

In a news item five years ago, we mentioned the establishment of the American Museum of Natural History’s repository of nonhuman genomes, now known as the Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research. Distinguishing the collection from those at the CDC or ATCC, the museum’s biobank contains samples of living communities of organisms, such as an entire bacterial ecosystem fished out of an Illinois pond. As part of the museum’s Institute for Comparative Genomics, which itself was launched this month five years ago, the collection is housed in a 2,000-square-foot facility with the capacity to store more than half a million specimens.

The May 2001 issue also contained Genome Technology’s first mention of Solexa, which was then a 16-employee startup operating out of Cambridge, UK. Since that debut, we haven’t stopped writing. Early last year, Solexa joined forces with Lynx Therapeutics, thereby picking up IP, offices, and staff in Hayward, Calif. Last summer, David Bentley, once a member of the company’s scientific advisory board, took on the role of chief scientific officer. Most recently, the company announced plans to discontinue its activities involving the Lynx-begotten MPSS technology.

— Jen Crebs


Next Month in GT

Don’t miss these upcoming features in the June issue:

Salary survey

In our fourth annual salary survey, we’ll bring you data from readers on wages in public- and private-sector integrated biology, breaking information down to which technology categories pay the most and which kinds of organizations are seeing the fewest layoffs. As usual, we’ll also report on perks such as benefits, bonuses, and patent privileges.

The PCR standby

The 20-year-old tool is frequently updated and used for new applications. GT’s coverage will give readers a sense of the new uses for PCR and potential future adaptations of the technology, as well as the latest updates in the field.


The Scan

Team Tracks Down Potential Blood Plasma Markers Linked to Heart Failure in Atrial Fibrillation Patients

Researchers in BMC Genomics found 10 differentially expressed proteins or metabolites that marked atrial fibrillation with heart failure cases.

Study Points to Synonymous Mutation Effects on E. Coli Enzyme Activity

Researchers in Nature Chemistry saw signs of enzyme activity shifts in the presence of synonymous mutations in a multiscale modeling analysis of three Escherichia coli genes.

Team Outlines Paternal Sample-Free Single-Gene Approach for Non-Invasive Prenatal Screening

With data for nearly 9,200 pregnant individuals, researchers in Genetics in Medicine demonstrate the feasibility of their carrier screening and reflex single-gene non-invasive prenatal screening approach.

Germline-Targeting HIV Vaccine Shows Promise in Phase I Trial

A National Institutes of Health-led team reports in Science that a broadly neutralizing antibody HIV vaccine induced bnAb precursors in 97 percent of those given the vaccine.