By Bio-IT World Staff
February 19, 2014 | For the past few years, the announcements made by genetic sequencing companies at the Advances in Genome Biology & Technology (AGBT) conference on Marco Island, FL, have been scrutinized closely for signs that a new player might disrupt the tenacious market dominance of Illumina. In the past, Ion Torrent, Oxford Nanopore, and Pacific Biosciences have all been discussed as likely challengers; this year, as all three of these companies showed incremental progress in growing their technologies, GenapSys of Redwood City, CA, has staked its claim as another company to watch. Last week at AGBT 2014, GenapSys opened an early access program for researchers to test out the company's GENIUS sequencer, which CEO Hesaam Esfandyarpour unveiled as an instrument around the size of a tablet. In the accompanying press release, the company claims that “[t]he GENIUS system generates results faster and at a fraction of the cost of existing products on the market.”
Little is publicly known about the technology behind GENIUS, which GenapSys states does not rely on secondary markers – like fluorescent tags or pH levels – to determine the base sequence of DNA molecules, but instead directly examines the reaction of polymerase binding to the sample DNA. Like Ion Torrent's technology, the GENIUS system is based on semiconductors – which, given Ion Torrent's repeated delays in releasing the promised Proton II chip, may forebode dangers in adapting the system to high-throughput sequencing. GenapSys reports that sample preparation and enrichment both take place within the GENIUS instrument, and claims that its fastest semiconductor chip on launch will output 100 Gb of data per run, comparable to mid-level sequencers like the NextSeq 500 from Illumina or the Ion Proton. In addition to the size of the instrument and the integration of sample prep, perhaps the company's boldest statement is that customers will be able to buy the system for a price in the tens of thousands of dollars, or thousands of dollars for high users – compared to price tags of over $200,000 for the NextSeq or Proton.
Previous announcements like this from up-and-coming sequencing companies have so far not panned out: Ion Torrent continues to push back its high-throughput semiconductor chip, while at AGBT this year Oxford Nanopore shared some data from its long-anticipated MinION system that, while promising, betrayed systematic errors in reading certain genomic regions that leave the technology as-yet unfit for genome-wide sequencing. With GenapSys now opening its system to early users, we should know within a matter of months whether the GENIUS instrument is really ready to buck this trend.