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NCGR, Aiming to Diversify Platforms, Acquires Five SOLiD 4 Instruments

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By Julia Karow

This story was originally published September 3.

The National Center for Genome Resources is expanding its next-generation sequencing capacity this month by installing five SOLiD instruments for its service work, In Sequence has learned.

Up until now, NCGR has been exclusively using the Illumina Genome Analyzer as its next-generation sequencing platform. The addition of the SOLiD machines is part of a strategy to diversify the center's offerings, which will also include the acquisition of the PacBio RS and possibly other types of sequencers in the future.

Part of NCGR's success as a sequencing service provider and collaborator has been its strong informatics suit, according to its president, Greg May.

The best way to learn about data types generated by different sequencing platforms is "to generate the data itself, and be familiar with the ins and outs of data generation and the associated files," he said. "From an informatics perspective, having access to the various sequencing platforms makes sense, strategically."

In addition, having the SOLiD platform will likely enable the center to attract new customers. "People have preferences, and right now, we have no access to collaborators or customers that have a preference for the SOLiD platform," he said.

Finally, NCGR hopes to collaborate with Life Tech, which might enable it to gain early access to new sequencing platforms currently in development, such as Life Tech's single-molecule sequencer and the Ion Torrent platform. "I think there is lots of room, strategically, for us to collaborate with their company," May said.

NCGR has already had "a long, very fruitful and productive collaboration" with Illumina, May said. It is a certified service provider for Illumina's sequencing platform and provides human whole-genome sequencing services for Illumina's recently established Genome Network. Right now, the center has eight Genome Analyzer IIx machines installed and expects to receive a HiSeq 2000 sequencer within the next few months. NCGR hopes to have a similar relationship with Life Tech, as well as Pacific Biosciences, whose PacBio RS sequencer is scheduled to arrive at the center this month, and others in the future. "We have to evolve along with the technology," he said.

Life Tech, in turn, hopes to benefit from NCGR's strong reputation in next-gen sequencing, as shown by publications in high-profile journals. "We see NCGR as an extremely well-established and well-regarded services provider with demonstrated expertise in both the agricultural market segment as well as the human genomics segment," said Jay Therrien, Life Tech's head of global SOLiD sales. "We look forward to them delivering SOLiD data to a lot of their customers in those segments."

He also noted that NCGR has already worked with SOLiD data in the past, and has been working on tools to provide SOLiD data to its customers "in a coherent and highly usable manner."

Therrien added that when Life Tech launches the hq update for the SOLiD 4, which is scheduled for later this year and will increase the instrument's throughput, NCGR will be "one of the first" to receive it.

He declined to disclose financial details of NCGR's acquisition of the five SOLiD instruments, but noted that "we're happy and they're happy."

May said that he hopes to be offering services on the SOLiD starting later this month, and plans to use the instruments in two areas, resequencing — primarily in humans — and transcriptome sequencing, in humans and possibly crop plants. These applications, he said, are "a good fit" for the platform.

Asked how easy or difficult it might be to integrate the SOLiD platform into the center's existing set-up, he said that though he does not know details yet, "my understanding, watching this platform evolve over the years, is that it has become more streamlined, and the actual laboratory aspects have been simplified, and some of the informatics aspects have been simplified as well."

NCGR is not the first sequencing center to add a number of SOLiD instruments after having been primarily a user of Illumina's sequencing technology. This spring, for example, the Genome Sciences Centre of the British Columbia Cancer Agency installed eight SOLiD systems, adding to 14 existing Illumina GAIIx and two SOLiD instruments (IS 4/13/2010).

Bernadette Toner contributed reporting to this article.

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