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Acquisition of Epicentre Gives Illumina Exclusive Access to Nextera Sample-Prep Method


By Julia Karow

Illumina's recent acquisition of molecular biology reagent provider Epicentre Biotechnologies provides the company with exclusive access to a library prep method that researchers have said offers great advantages for next-generation sequencing.

Last week, Illumina said it acquired Madison, Wis.-based Epicentre, a privately owned company, for an undisclosed price. A "key component" of the purchase, it said, was to gain access to the firm's proprietary Nextera technology for next-gen sequencing library prep.

Nextera relies on a mutant version of the Tn5 transposase, which fragments DNA and adds sequencing adaptors in a single step. The company first released Nextera library preparation kits about a year ago for the 454 and Illumina platforms and as of last month had plans to offer them for new sequencing platforms.

Late last year, researchers from the University of Washington, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, and Chinese genome center BGI published an article in Genome Biology (IS 12/21/2010) in which they compared the Nextera approach to standard library prep methods and pointed out its advantages in terms of speed, low DNA input, lack of equipment required, and new applications enabled — for example direct sequencing from bacterial colonies.

Nextera "significantly reduces the sample prep time across our entire portfolio of sequencers," said Illumina CEO Jay Flatley during a presentation at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco last week. Specifically, he said that the Epicentre technology cuts the sample-prep time from 12 hours and nine steps to two hours and four steps.

As of last month, Epicentre had planned to launch several new Nextera kits during the first half of 2011, including a PCR-free kit, a low-input kit, a single-tube kit, and a mate-pair kit, and was working on a methyl-seq kit for bisulfite sequencing.

At the time, Epicentre Director of Market Development Nick Caruccio told In Sequence that the company had already adapted Nextera "to just about all of the third-gen [sequencing] instruments that are out there," noting that "Nextera is a very flexible system."

This week, he said that Epicentre will be evaluating its product development priorities, adding that "obviously, the Illumina platform will be our top priority." Illumina declined to comment on whether it will continue to offer Nextera kits for the 454 or other platforms besides its own.

In addition to the Nextera technology, Epicentre offers a variety of enzymes and molecular biology reagents for applications including gene expression analysis; DNA, RNA, and protein sample prep; PCR; cloning; DNA and RNA sequencing; in vitro transcription; and transposition.

For next-gen sequencing in particular, besides Nextera, it offers mRNA-seq library prep kits for the Illumina and 454 platforms, and small RNA-seq library prep kits for the Illumina.

Also, the company sells kits for the removal of ribosomal RNA, including one optimized for formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded RNA samples. That product "will allow people to sequence RNA from FFPE samples," Caruccio said last month. "I think that's going to be a huge opportunity, both for researchers and Epicentre."

In general, he said at the time, "we look at RNA-seq as probably a bigger market than DNA-seq," and the company had several new products planned in that area.

Have topics you'd like to see covered in In Sequence? Email the editor at jkarow [at] genomeweb [.] com.