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Solexa: Sequencing for a Song

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Solexa, a 16-employee Cambridge, UK, startup is aiming to render industrial sequencing centers obsolete.

“Ultimately, we’ll be able to do a single-pass sequence of an entire genome for about $700 in about 10 hours,” says Nick McCooke, president and managing director of Solexa.

The key to the quick and cheap large-scale sequencing, invented by Cambridge University researchers Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman, is bypassing DNA amplification. Solexa chops a genome into 10 million fragments, attaches a single molecule to each spot on an array, and sequences them in parallel.

Solexa plans to have a working prototype ready within two years. The early versions will be designed for finding all the genetic differences in an individual compared to a reference sequence, such as the one published by the human genome project. But within five years, McCooke envisions routine sequencing of individual genomes.

To access the technology, though, you’ll have to partner with Solexa. “We don’t want to simply be an instrument company,” says McCooke. The company also plans to use its Single Molecule Arrays to generate data and offer databases for subscription.

Solexa has kept a low profile since its inception in 1998, but it collaborates with well-known Sanger Centre genomicists: Richard Durbin, Jane Rogers, and Dave Bentley are on the company’s scientific advisory board.

“I like to tell them that when this is fully developed, it’ll have the sequencing capacity of 20 Sanger Centres,” McCooke says of Solexa’s sequencing technology. “They laugh, and then they say, ‘Yes, but think what an entire Sanger Centre full of the technology would be able to produce?’”

— Aaron J. Sender

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