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Archon Genomics X Prize Begins Recruiting Players, Centenarians

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The contest to sequence 100 complete human genomes of people who are over 100 years old in one month for $1,000 or less per genome has started its recruitment process and has pulled in new several new partners to help it develop its sampling, protocols, informatics, and other scientific needs.

The multi-partner Archon Genomics X Prize presented by Medco said today that the sequencing race will begin in January 2013 and that they are now recruiting the centenarians through a global consortium, recruiting contestants, developing the measures used to judge the contest, and working on plans to analyze and make publicly available the genomic data from this unique pool of long-lived participants. The prize carries a purse of $10 million which will be divvied up if more than one team wins the contest.

At a press conference in Boston today, Grant Campany, the senior director and prize lead for the X Prize, said the foundation will use EdgeBio to develop the bioinformatics software for the project and that the software and data will be run on the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The X Prize team has launched a web page called Life at 100+ to support the recruitment of participants. It also has started a global centenarian consortium to bring in diverse international participants and will work with partners including the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the New England Centenarian Study.

When the contest is over, all of the data will be made publicly available to researchers via the National Institutes of Health's DBGap data resource, and the software will be publicly available as well, Campany said.

He didn't specify which possible competitors, if any, have thrown their hats in the ring, but he said the X Prize is "highly interested in recruiting the big three, which would be Life Technologies, Illumina, and Complete Genomics." He said that the partners will be recruiting teams to join the contest through July 2012.

Campany said teams will have 30 days after receiving samples to generate 100 genomes with no more than one error per one million bases, and each genome must be 98 percent complete.

Developing standards for measuring achievement for the contest is one of the critical challenges facing the X Prize group.

"One of the key weaknesses in [the whole genome sequencing industry] right now is that there is no real standard for measuring quality. So, in order of us to declare a winner of this prize we actually have to create a very sophisticated bioinformatic software that's going to look at how we're going to score each of these sequences that are submitted in the competition," Campany said.

"One of the major outcomes of this competition is that we are helping to define what it means to have a medical grade genome," explained Larry Kedes, who is scientific advisory board co-chair for the Archon Genomics X Prize.

The contest has several scientific goals, according to Kedes. Among them is the acceleration of the sequencing and analysis technology. Another goal is to develop the medical grade genome, which Kedes said the organizers have been working on for two years already through development of their validation technology.

Another aim of the contest is to generate "100 genomes that have been highly sequenced by multiple teams."

"At the end of this competition we expect there to be eight to 10 different teams using different technologies sequencing the same genome. So, we will have multiple copies of the same genome for all 100 of them," said Kedes. "And that would give us a very deep insight into what systematic errors might exist among certain kinds of technologies, why people made mistakes in the sequencing, and it will allow the genomic community to very quickly determine what the true sequence is among these multiply sequenced genomes.

"At the end of that time, we believe we will have a near letter-perfect copy of 100 genomes, and that just doesn't exist today," he said.

In addition, Kedes said that in addition to having the genomes available another major benefit of the contest will be the availability of the technology used to judge the genomes. "So, the bioinformatics and the methodology that we use to do the judging may actually set the ground rules for what it means to validate a genome and to have a test of what a medical grade genome really means."