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With New Sequencing Techs Up for Grabs, Institute for Systems Biology Studies Helicos

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Aug. 22 (GenomeWeb News) - The Institute for Systems Biology is "talking about testing" one of Helicos BioSciences' gene-sequencing prototypes, GenomeWeb News has learned.


"We are ... doing some collaboration with ... Helicos, which is taking us further into downstream approaches to the analysis of single DNA molecules," Lee Hood, president of the Institute, told GenomeWeb News today during a news conference at the 12th European Congress on Biotechnology, held at the University of Copenhagen this week.


"I think [new sequencing technologies] will have a profound impact on systems biology, because systems biology starts with complete genome sequences, and they're difficult to obtain now with methods used in the past," Hood said. "With some of the new methods coming out, [such as] parallel sequencing, we can see sequencing entire microbial genomes in a few hours."


The Helicos technology relies on cyclic sequencing by synthesis, using 1.2 billion strands of DNA attached to a quartz slide to create a parallel process.  


Hood said that "my guess is that within 10 years there'll be new nanotechnology approaches that will ... make the human genome well under $1,000." This is significant because most researchers recently have said it will take around five years to develop a tool to sequence an entire human genome for $1,000 or less.


The collaboration keeps it all in the family for Hood. He has been on Helicos' scientific advisory board since the company opened its doors in Cambridge, Mass., in 2003. He is also an alumnus of Caltech, where Steve Quake, Helicos' founder, was a professor. (Quake is currently a professor of bioengineering at Stanford.) This is noteworthy because George Church, who also sits on Helicos' SAB, has been developing his own sequencing platform at Harvard. Church's technology is currently licensed to Agencourt.


Another Helicos partner is Eric Lander. Helicos expects to ship an instrument to Lander's lab by the end of the year, according to Genome Technology, a GenomeWeb News sister publication. Helicos expects to have beta instruments out by next year and a commercial system available in 2007, Genome Technology reported in July. Interestingly, the Broad Center, which Lander oversees, bought a 454 platform in March.


Hood's disclosure comes at a time when companies, academic labs, and research institutes jockey for position to align themselves with one of the dozen or so companies that have sprung up in recent years to develop faster and less costly sequencing technologies.


Most recently, the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute has purchased a $500,000 genome sequencing system from 454, while Roche and the University Washington have separately shown an interest in 454 (though Roche has obtained exclusive rights to sell the technology for diagnostics applications).

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