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PacBio, VisiGen, Helicos Offer Progress Updates

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This year started off with a bang for the next-gen sequencing community. At two February conferences — Advances in Genome Biology and Technology in Marco Island, Fla., and the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities annual meeting in Salt Lake City — representatives from a number of the next line of next-gen vendors gave status reports on their platforms.

It can safely be said that the most anticipated came from Pacific Biosciences, which emerged from stealth mode with results from its prototype instrument. Known as SMRT sequencing (that's "single molecule, real-time"), the technology is currently running at 10 bases per second, and tests with circularized templates have routinely generated reads of 1,500 bases or more. The company has a staff of 100 and expects to double in size this year, says CEO Hugh Martin — he'll also be looking to raise about $80 million in funding to cover commercialization costs. Martin says PacBio expects to be selling instruments to early adopters in 2010, and that its price is targeted to be in the same range as ABI's SOLiD or Illumina's next-gen sequencer. CTO Steve Turner says the instrument has successfully worked with linear and circular, as well as single- and double-stranded, DNA.

Susan Hardin presented VisiGen's sequencer at ABRF. Like PacBio's technology, VisiGen monitors a polymerase in real time as it incorporates bases to a DNA strand to read the sequence. The platform is still in early stages, but she said her initial target was to generate 1 megabase of sequence per second per instrument, and that the company would be offering a sequencing service by the end of 2009. She also said that the company was awarded its first patent.

Helicos, meanwhile, announced its first instrument order — to genomic services provider Expression Analysis in Durham, NC — and also presented results of a canine BAC that the company had sequenced. The single-molecule platform uses a melt-and-resequence strategy to cover each base twice, said Bill Efcavitch, senior vice president of product R&D. "One of the advantages of single-molecule sequencing is that the error rate stays flat," he added.

Also at AGBT, a team from Danaher Motion ushered attendees in to introduce them to the Polonator, the open-platform sequencer commercialized from George Church's lab with a price tag of $150,000.

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