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The Genome Contractors

At its production facility in Mountain View, Calif., Complete Genomics' goal is to "revolutionize" the way disease genes are discovered, says New Scientist's Peter Aldhous. The company runs the world's largest human genome sequencing factory — last year, Aldhous says, the operation's 16 robots sequenced 800 genomes. Now, they can do 400 genomes a month. Complete Genomics contracts its services to researchers and pharmaceutical companies alike, charging $9,500 per genome, or $5,500 per genome for orders of 1,000 or more. Robots do the sequencing — though technicians supervise to make sure everything runs smoothly — and the data computation is done at a fully automated data center about 20 minutes away from the sequencing factory, Aldhous says. The staff mostly works on improving the technology and talking to customers. "The culture of automation has a serious scientific goal. Geneticists had hoped that mutations determining our susceptibility to disease would emerge from limited scans, which record common variants at some one million positions across the genome," Aldhous says. But so far, researchers have only explained a small part of heritability — looking for the missing pieces will require a lot of sequencing, and that's where Complete Genomics comes in, he adds. "Complete Genomics is unusual in tailoring its technology to the task of churning out whole human genomes, and deciding not to sell machines but to offer a contract sequencing service," Aldhous says. Scientists like Leroy Hood have said there's little point in researchers doing the sequencing, but must focus instead on the interpretation of the data. And Complete Genomics has positioned itself to suit researchers' needs, Aldhous says.