gatc

Europe’s leading genetic sequencing provider, GATC Biotech, recently announced that it would sequence 100,000 human genomes by 2014. Based in Germany, GATC plan on using sequencing technology from other industry leaders, including Illumina’s HiSeq2000 and Pacific Bio’s PacBio RS single molecule platform, to achieve their goal. They are reportedly already on target to finish 100 human genomes by the end of 2010. To facilitate the ramp up needed to hit the 100k mark in four years, GATC has created a new unit, and has grown their staff to 120 employees. They predict that sequencing customers will come from the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries, as well as academia. While GATC isn’t adding any new technology to the whole genome sequencing game, they are a major force in Europe, and seem to have the resources necessary to make their goal a reality. With another company competing for sequencing dominance, the chances for cheap reliable access to your own genome are looking better every day.

President Kennedy famously put the US on track to win the space race by setting the goal, “… of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Whole genome sequencing is now entering a similar race, with similar bold statements by prominent companies. Yet no one seems certain as to where the moon is, metaphorically speaking. Complete Genomics has announced it will sequence a million genomes in the next five years. GATC has its 100k genome goal set around the same time frame. Which of these is the important landmark? Does it really matter if either one succeeds?

Globally, the number of human genomes that have been sequenced is still in the low hundreds. With such a small data set, the number of things we can learn from a genome is still fairly limited. As we mentioned before, it has been 10 years since the first human genome was sequenced and we still haven’t had a revolution in genetics. How many genomes will it take before we get there? We may have major breakthroughs by the time we sequence a few thousand genomes, or it may take us two or three million before we find the connections needed to make big breakthroughs in genetics. Those leaps in understanding are going to be more meaningful than hitting some arbitrary mark (1 million or 100,000) in the number of genomes sequenced.

The real saving grace of all this competition to sequence the most genomes quickest is that it is driving prices down rapidly. Illumina’s HiSeq2000 and other instruments are drastically reducing the reagents costs needed for each genome. Complete Genomics is already looking to offer genomes at less than $10,000 USD this year. With service groups like GATC getting into things, we’ll hopefully see prices plummet in the next five years. That will help research teams, in the pharma industry or academia, find those major breakthroughs in genetics we’ve been waiting for. It will also mean that millions of people around the world would be able to afford to get access to their own sequence, especially if prices fall below the $1000 mark. In the end, I’m not terribly thrilled that GATC is aiming to hit the 100k genome goal by 2014, but I am enthusiastic to see what kind of changes in genetics their efforts might enable.

[image credits: GATC Biotech]
[source: GATC Biotech Press Release]