Ion Torrent first to enter newly revised $10m X-Prize genome sequencing contest

July 24, 2012 by Bob Yirka, report
Ion Proton Sequencer

( -- Ion Torrent signified its intention to win the $10 million prize that will be given to whoever can sequence the entire genome of 100 people over the age of 100 in just one month's time, by signing up as an entrant in the latest X-Prize contest. The winner must also complete their sequencing in a way that costs a thousand dollars or less per genome, a formidable proposition to be sure as current estimates typically run three to five thousand dollars. There’s also an accuracy test at the end, which appears to have caused some of the big names in the field to hesitate in throwing their hats into the ring. Results must be at least 95% complete.

The contest will begin September 5, 2013, and end on the 4th of the following month. Each contestant will be given a vial containing the DNA of the one hundred people who have volunteered samples for the contest. Those considering entering the contest have until May 13, 2013 to sign up.

Officials with the organization say the goals of the contest are twofold; one, to advance the science, i.e. make new discoveries that will hopefully result in new advances in sequencing genomes (and maybe uncover some clues as to why some people live to be a hundred despite living normal lives) and two, to bring some honesty to the field. Sequencing genomes has become big business as several companies now sequence genomes for customers looking to find out if they have genes that indicate they are susceptible to various genetic diseases.

Funds for the contest are being provided by Stewart and Marilyn Blusson who made a fortune with Archon Minerals, a company they run that has found many gold and diamond deposits. The , named the Archon Genomics X Prize, will have J. Craig Venter as one of the members on the advisory board, who has gone on the record roundly applauding the idea of separating the marketing hype surrounding sequencing from the reality of what is actually available.

Ion Torrent, which is owned by Life Technologies, plans to rely on its semiconductor/chemistry based Proton machines (rather than the light based devices most others in the field use) that founder Jonathan Rothberg has said are now capable of sequencing a human genome in two hours. Other, more established companies have been non-committal thus far suggesting they might be worried about their reputation should their claims to potential customers not hold up to close scrutiny.

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5 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2012
I'd like to hear more about "bring some honesty to the field." What kind of dishonesty is there right now?
3 / 5 (2) Jul 24, 2012
I'm holding out for the ads hawking, "Sequence your genome now for $99 - while you wait! Remove defective genes and make your clone better than you!"
not rated yet Jul 25, 2012
I'd like to hear more about "bring some honesty to the field." What kind of dishonesty is there right now?

I think they're referring to claims that some the manufacturers often make about the performance of their machines. I was at a workshop based at a national sequencing centre a few weeks ago and there was a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of different machines. The experts genuinely believed in the techniques, but I got the impression that they think the claims that some of the manufacturers make about speed, read length, accuracy etc. are either at the extreme and difficult end of the spectrum or aren't practically possible under day-to-day conditions.

Having a competition like this which has an independent quality test should help to pick out the realistic marketing from the fluff.
not rated yet Jul 25, 2012
Just to add to that, there's an interesting quote from Craig Venter on this in the Guardian's article on why he thinks the other companies haven't signed up:

"The other reason is that, despite what their ads say, their technology doesn't measure up. I regard the X Prize as truth serum."

So yeah, there seems to be general skepticism over the honesty of claims made about the performance of some of the machines.

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