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Systems Bio Leaders Weigh in on Next-Gen Community Needs

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A group of leaders in sequencing and related fields descended on Cambridge, Mass., late last year to chew the fat about what the next-gen sequencing community needs. In a meeting arranged by Helicos BioSciences to take the pulse of potential users of the next-gen platform the company plans to launch this year, participants were more than willing to share their opinions.

John Quackenbush from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (and a member of Helicos' scientific advisory board) says that attendees were pragmatic about what they want to see from these new platforms -- for example, regarding the tension all of these companies face between spending resources developing better software interfaces or more efficient biochemistry. They made the point, for instance, that early adopters of this kind of technology will likely be "specialty centers and laboratories that do a lot of sequencing. [To accommodate them,] it makes sense to focus more on the nuts and bolts of sequencing than on making a pretty interface," Quackenbush says.

From his own perspective, Quackenbush says that all of the technologies on the market, or coming to market soon, "could gain some advantage by increasing their read length. [The current short reads] actually place limitations on what you can do with the data." But he says the step away from cloning that's typical of next-gen sequencing technologies will make a huge difference by allowing scientists "to sequence unclonable regions and unclonable organisms."

The other nice thing about next-gen tools, he adds, is their versatility: many of the new platforms can, in addition to sequencing, be used for CGH analysis, digital gene expression, and more. "There's a whole host of things you could do with this technology if you had the right question and you had the right variants of it," Quackenbush says.

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