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Slim Field for Genomics X Prize

This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Erika Check Hayden's given name.

The Archon Genomics X Prize was created to be the sort of challenge that inspires a gaggle of investigators and inventors to push new technologies and bold ideas to their limits, so why are there only two contestants in the game just two days before the registration deadline, Erika Check Hayden asks in Nature.

There may be a couple of good reasons why the genomics X Prize has only lured two teams — Ion Torrent and George Church's group at Harvard's Wyss Institute — into the action, Hayden suggests.

First off, it is going to be hard to win that $10 million purse. The goal is to be the first team to "rapidly, accurately, and economically sequence 100 whole human genomes to a level of accuracy never before achieved," — meaning a medical-grade genome — in 30 days or less, according to the organizers.

Aside from pushing sequencing to faster speeds and enhanced accuracy, the X Prize also wants to generate useful data, thus the contest will focus on 100 genomes from 100 centenarians from around the world with the goal of helping to discover genetic clues to longevity.

The original contest asked teams to try to sequence 100 genomes in 10 days for less than $10,000 per genome, but that was changed in 2011 after none of the original eight competitors thought they could achieve those speeds.

Another deterrent from signing up for the contest is that it could cost more than the $10 million prize to develop the technologies required to win.

But according to HHMI investigator Timothy Harris, Hayden writes, winning the prize could be a huge reputation booster.

"If you could deliver that kind of performance you would have the commercial advantage by a large margin over anyone else," Harris says. "That commercial advantage is worth way more than the X prize."