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MGI Tech Introduces Portable Sequencer, Single-Cell Prep Device; Launches New Sequencing Chemistry

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NEW YORK – Chinese sequencing instrument maker MGI Tech last week unveiled several new products, including a portable sequencing system, and launched a sequencing chemistry it had announced earlier this year.

The DNBSeq E series is a "one-stop sequencing solution," the firm said in a statement. Roughly cube shaped, the device occupies approximately 1 square foot of benchtop space. While the E series box is designed to be affordable and easy to use for customers getting into sequencing, MGI envisions that it will also find use outside the lab.

MGI revealed the E series and accompanying products last Friday at the 14th International Conference on Genomics (ICG-14) in Shenzhen, China, the showcase meeting put on by parent firm BGI.

MGI designed the instrument to use less electricity, so that it can be battery operated and used in the field, whether that's for pathogen monitoring in remote locations, or for use by law-enforcement in "on-site" forensics.

The company did not reveal any technical specifications, such as run time or throughput, but an MGI spokesperson said it is a "high-throughput" platform.

MGI also revealed the DNBelab D series digital biology lab for microfluidics-based automated sample preparation, a complement to the E series sequencer, and DNBelab C series single-cell products, including the handheld C4 portable single-cell prep instrument and an RNA library preparation kit.

"We now have a much more comprehensive and diversified portfolio," MGI CEO Mu Feng said in an email. The firm added that the new products "will help MGI to further expand the diversified sequencing market, helping the industry to advance and bringing more opportunities for rapid growth."

In a statement, the firm said that portability and automation were new themes for the products revealed at ICG-14. The MGI spokesperson added that "miniaturization" and "modularization" were also themes that represented a "new direction for future products."

On size, the MGI E series is comparable to the Illumina MiniSeq, but could be cheaper than Illumina's $49,500 instrument. And the mobility it affords could let it compete with the Oxford Nanopore Technologies MinIon.

MGI has sold more than 1,000 sequencers in China and the Asia-Pacific region, including its MGISEQ-2000 and -200 instruments, which have been renamed the DNBSeq-G400 and -G50, respectively outside of China and select other countries. The firm is planning to break into the European and North American markets but is being met with resistance from San Diego-based sequencing giant Illumina, which has filed numerous patent lawsuits in the US and throughout Europe. MGI and BGI have also sued Illumina for patent infringement.

MGI wants to price the E series to be "more affordable than what is on the market now," the spokesperson said, but declined to comment further. According to MGI promotional materials, the instrument's disposable cartridges integrate fluidic and optical systems, making it fully dry and low maintenance, although MGI didn't specify how those systems were shifted off the box. The cartridges also reduce reagent consumption and allow for faster run times.

The E and D series instruments will be available separately but are designed to work together. The D series instrument will have customizable modules that can perform droplet manipulation, magnetic bead purification, and PCR amplification, among other functions.

The C series single-cell products also follow the theme of portability. The C4 device will be handheld and does not require power supply, driven by negative pressure through a syringe-like feature. MGI said single-cell sorting and barcoding can be done in one step, reliably capturing 1,000 to 4,000 cells with a double rate between 1 and 5 percent.

Last week, researchers led by BGI's Longqi Liu and Complete Genomics' I-Jane Chen posted a BioRxiv preprint reporting on the C4's performance and comparing it to other single-cell RNA-seq technologies. They reported 61 percent of the reads mapping to exonic regions, a multiplet rate of 2 to 2.5 percent, and said the median number of genes with 100,000 reads per cell was over 6,000, "which outperforms other platforms."

"From what we can see, the quality is comparable to other droplet-based [single-cell] systems," including the 10x Genomics Chromium, said Andreas Keller, chair for clinical bioinformatics at Germany's Saarland University and a visiting professor at Stanford University, where he has been beta-testing the C4 in a single-cell sequencing study of patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. They've already generated 120,000 single-cell transcriptomes from 40 samples sequenced on a very high-throughput MGI sequencer, although Keller said the single-cell libraries could be analyzed on other sequencers. MGI noted that the C4 is compatible with its T7, G400, and G50 sequencers. "The price is highly competitive," he added.

The device is also fast and scalable. "You can process 50 or more samples on the device per day. You will reach 100,000 cells per day easily," he said.

His lab also has experience with data from MGI's new CoolMPS sequencing chemistry (initially called CoolNGS), which he presented at the recent American Society of Human Genetics conference in Houston. CoolMPS is an antibody-based chemistry that recognizes unlabeled incorporated bases.

"CoolMPS gave us really good results," in a proof-of-concept study looking at noncoding RNAs in samples from Alzheimer's patients and controls, Keller said.

During an MGI-sponsored workshop at the ASHG meeting, he presented a comparison of data generated by MGI's San Jose laboratory using the CoolMPS chemistry with data produced in his own lab using the older BGI-Seq platform as well as data on 19 miRNAs generated by RT-qPCR.

He found that 94 percent of the CoolMPS read had Q30 quality scores, more than the BGI-Seq reads, and 98 percent of the reads were usable. In addition, he found 0.98 reproducibility between technical replicates and a 0.85 correlation with RT-qPCR, which he called "exceptionally high." He also said the new chemistry is "price competitive."

Keller said a next step is to do sequencing with the new chemistry on libraries generated using the C4 device.

Also at the ASHG workshop, Gracie Gordon, a graduate student at the University of California, San Francisco, presented a comparison of single-cell paired-end RNA-seq data from the NovaSeq 6000 and from the MGI DNBSeq-G400 using the CoolMPS chemistry. MGI produced the CoolMPS data for this study.

She found that a higher percentage of Ilumina reads than MGI reads had quality scores above Q30. Also, Illumina called more SNPs than MGI, and the quality of the first read was slightly higher for Illumina than MGI. However, those differences did not make much of a difference for the subsequent data analysis and she concluded that "MGI's alpha version of the CoolMPS technology can be used for multiplexed single-cell genomics assays with comparable results to Illumina NovaSeq sequencing."

MGI said it is aiming to release the E and D series instruments for early-access testing in the first half of 2020 and will follow its rollout strategy of starting with key partners, usually in China, before releasing the technology elsewhere.

Julia Karow contributed reporting to this article.

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