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Life Tech Launches 5500xl, 5500 SOLiD to Replace SOLiD 4hq, PI

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This article, originally published Nov. 1, has been updated with additional information from Life Technologies.

By Julia Karow

Life Technologies this week launched the 5500xl and 5500 SOLiD sequencers, two newly designed instruments differing in throughput that will replace existing and previously planned versions of the SOLiD platform.

The 5500xl, which runs two flow chips and has a list price of $595,000, replaces the SOLiD 4hq (IS 2/2/2010), a previously announced but not yet available upgrade to the SOLiD 4. The 5500, which runs a single flow chip and has a list price of $349,000, replaces the SOLiD PI, a smaller version of the SOLiD 4 that was originally scheduled to start shipping before the end of the year (IS 3/2/2010).

The company said that it combined the SOLiD 4hq and PI programs in response to customer feedback. The main differences between the 5500 series and the existing SOLiD platform is that the new instruments have faster run times; are more flexible in terms of run size, reagent use, and applications that can be run in parallel; and provide the option to increase single-read accuracy by adding the Exact Call Chemistry probe set.

The 5500xl differs from the 5500 in that it has two instead of one flow chip. The 5500 will also not be able to use smaller beads that Life Tech plans to launch next year in order to increase the throughput of the 5500xl.

Life Tech plans to ship both platforms to a limited set of customers starting in December, and to supply them in larger quantities starting in the first quarter of 2011.

The company developed both instruments in collaboration with Hitachi High Technologies, Applied Biosystems' longstanding partner for capillary electrophoresis sequencers. Among other things, Hitachi contributed its liquid-handling technology to the platform.

Hitachi will assemble the instruments at its manufacturing site in Japan, allowing Life Tech to ramp up production more quickly than it could on it own, a Life Tech executive told In Sequence.

Both the 5500 and 5500xl are benchtop systems with an integrated monitor and desktop computer. They contain a robotic reagent delivery system that tracks reagent usage and provides quality checkpoints across the workflow. Real-time data processing means no compute cluster is necessary. Both systems will still use the EZ Bead system for library preparation, which Life Tech launched earlier this year for the SOLiD 4.

The instruments use microfluidic flow chips, each with six independent lanes, instead of the slides of the existing SOLiD. This allows users to perform different types of experiments — for example, exome sequencing, RNA-seq, and ChiP-seq — in the same run. Also, customers can use only a subset of lanes and shut off the reagent flow to the other lanes, so they don't waste reagents during partial runs. A run of a single lane using 35-base reads can be completed in 24 hours, the company said.

Users have the option to run Life Tech's new Exact Call Chemistry on both systems. Launched last week (IS 10/26/2010), the new chemistry, which introduces an additional probe set, enables a single-read accuracy of more than 99.99 percent, while increasing run times by about 20 percent.

Life Technologies said that high-throughput users will pay $3,000 in reagents to sequence a human genome at high coverage on the new instruments.

The 5500xl will initially deliver up to 180 gigabases of mappable data per run, using 2 x 60-base mate pairs. The instrument's throughput is 20 to 30 gigabases per day, and it will generate 2.8 billion tags in a paired-end or mate pair run. Run times vary between a day for a single lane of 35-base reads and 7 days for a 75 x 35-base mate pair or 60 x 60-base paired-end run.

By comparison, the SOLiD 4 currently delivers up to 100 gigabases per run, using 2 x 50-base mate pairs. Run times range from about 4 days for a 35-base run to 16 days for a 2 x 50-base mate pair run.

The output per run of the 5500xl is significantly lower than the 300 gigabases that Life Tech had promised for the hq upgrade of the SOLiD 4, which was scheduled for launch later this year, but the run time is much shorter. Also, during the second half of 2011, the company plans to switch from 1-micron to 0.75-micron beads, thus increasing the output of the 5500xl to up to 300 gigabases per run, or 30 to 45 gigabases per day, with 4.8 billion paired-end or mate pair tags.

The 5500 will be able to generate up to 90 gigabases of mappable data per run, and 1.4 billion paired-end or mate-pair tags. Run times and read lengths will be identical to the 5500xl. However, this system will not be configured to use the smaller beads next year.

The 5500's output is larger than the 50 gigabases and 800 million tags per run that were originally planned for the SOLiD PI. However, the list price of the 5500 is also much higher than the $230,000 price of the PI. Life Tech plans to enable customers of the 5500 to be able to upgrade to the 5500xl, although details have not been worked out yet.

Existing SOLiD 4 customers who have already purchased the hq upgrade or planned to do so will receive the new 5500xl instead and can keep their existing SOLiD 4 instrument for a least three months at no additional cost. Life Tech will stop selling the SOLiD 4 but will continue to support the platform for several years.

By launching the 5500 series for SOLiD, Life Tech is providing its answer to Illumina's HiSeq, an extremely successful instrument that Illumina launched earlier this year (see other article, this issue). Like the 5500 series, the HiSeq is available in two versions – 1000 and 2000 – with one or two flow cells.

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