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Archon X Prize Signs on Medco as Sponsor; Competitors to Sequence 100 Centenarians

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The Archon Genomics X Prize, backed by a new sponsor, has revised the guidelines for the competition to reflect its interest in attaining a "medical grade genome," the X Prize Foundation said this week.

Under the updated guidelines, teams competing for the prize will now have to sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians.

Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager, is now sponsoring the prize, whose $10 million purse is underwritten by a grant from Stewart Blusson, president of Archon Minerals, and his wife Marilyn.

The new guidelines are in line with a shift in strategy that competition organizers embarked upon earlier this year. In March, Archon X Prize officials said that they were looking to advance genomic medicine and develop methods that would be applicable for clinical sequencing, rather than just encourage the development of new sequencing technologies (IS 3/1/2011).

“The goal of this competition is to push the industry to develop more accurate, faster, and more cost-effective sequencing technologies,” said Craig Venter, co-chair for the competition, in a statement this week. “While many new technologies have been developed over the last decade and many human genomes have been sequenced, there is still no technology that can produce a highly accurate, reproducible human genome usable for diagnostics and medical treatment."

Under the revised guidelines, the prize, renamed the "Archon Genomics X Prize presented by Medco," will go to the first team to sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians within 30 days for $1,000 or less per genome, and with an error rate of no more than one in a million bases.

The samples come from 100 volunteers, named the "Medco 100 Over 100."

Following the completion of the competition, the X Prize Foundation plans to make the DNA sequences and cell lines of the study subjects available in a public database for researchers to study.

The Archon X Prize joins several other studies that are sequencing the genomes of elderly subjects in an effort to identify genes linked to wellness and longevity. Complete Genomics, for example, recently teamed up with the Scripps Science Translational Medicine Institute to sequence the genomes of 1,000 healthy individuals over the age of 80 who are part of the so-called "Wellderly Study" (CSN 10/5/2011).

Another study by Duke University, the Centenarian Sequencing Project, is sequencing the genomes of centenarians to learn about the genetics of longevity.

And recently, a team of researchers led by the Free University Amsterdam in the Netherlands sequenced the genome of a Dutch woman who died at the age of 115 years (IS 10/25/2011).

The Archon X Prize for Genomics was launched five years ago. The original goal was to sequence 100 diploid human genomes in 10 days to 98 percent completion for $10,000 or less per genome, with no more than one error per 10,000 bases (GWDN 10/23/2006).

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