Complete Genomics – New Information About the Hottest Company in Genetic Sequencing


Daniel MacArthur has once again delivered some of the best information on the net about Complete Genomics, the company that is lighting a fire in the genomics community with its claim that it will sequence human genomes for $5,000 apiece in the middle of 2009.  Nature News also has a revealing article with further information.  Daniel spoke directly with Complete’s CEO Clifford Reid and CSO Rade Drmanac as a followup to the Complete Genomics presentation given at AGBT last week.  Daniel’s report is highly technical, so here is a summary for those that don’t want to sift through the myriad details:

Complete Genomics uses a sequencing technology called “short read”, which means that they decode the DNA in small segments and then stitch all of these small segments together to make the whole sequence.  This same technique is used by many of Complete’s competitors, and is plagued with the problem that errors are sometimes introduced into the sequence during the stitching process.  MacArthur notes that Complete Genomics’ current error rate of 0.1%, which is reasonable by current industry standards, would result in 300,000 errors in a 3 billion base pair whole human genome.

So what does this mean?  It means that although Complete Genomics’ ability to accurately decode genomes seems to be within the range of its competitors, it falls short of the 100% accuracy that is ultimately desired.  The upshot is that the coming revolution in genomics in the next few years will be somewhat limited by sequencing that is not 100% accurate.  There is still a great deal of work that can be done on genomes that are 99.9% accurate and great scientific progress will undoubtedly result.  Ideally though, in the next ten years the technology will improve to true 100% accuracy, at which point further doors will be opened in the field of genetic analysis.

MacArthur reminds us that Complete Genomics is committed to only sequencing human genomes, even though genomes of monkeys and other organisms could easily be performed.  The reason:

“focusing only on large-scale human -omics will allow Complete to avoid the worst complexities of the service model (i.e. receiving many types of sample that require processing in many different ways), but still focus on the area where the market is the strongest.”

“Reid says that the goal of Complete is to create “a stream-lined factory” producing complete human genomes; by focusing on just one application (unlike any other genome facility) they can hone this process down to the point that they can do it cheaper and better than anyone else.”

Our interpretation: Complete Genomics is smart!  These guys are carving out the position as the company to go to for human genomic sequencing.  The genomics field is competitive and wide.  By narrowing their focus to human only genome sequencing, Complete Genomics is simplifying their business model and further solidifying their position in the lucrative market for human genome sequencing.

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