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Genome Corp. Born Again

By Kevin Davies
Dec. 17, 2007 | "There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Sanger [sequencing]," says Kevin Ulmer, founder of Genome Corp. "It needs some polishing and updating, but we believe it can outperform all of these next-gen methods by a substantial margin, without having to abandon what has generated 99.999% of everything that's in GenBank."

Ulmer's vision is to develop the most efficient production line for DNA sequencing. Without having to produce commercial instruments, Ulmer's focus is on developing an ultra high-throughput DNA sequencing factory.

"We will never sell hardware," he says. "We will be selling sequence information. It will be produced in a factory that will be designed and built with technical solutions and economies of scale that allow you to produce sequence far faster and cheaper than you could on a stand alone basis."

Ulmer says there are two main ingredients to reinventing Sanger to reach the necessary scale of affordability. First is "some form of in vitro amplification as the first step... so you have to move to essentially a one-pot amplification to give you tens of millions of reads."

Second is a major rethink of the downstream separation process. "Sequencing is an information services business, it's not an instrument reagent business. It will go the same way that oligonucleotide synthesis has gone," says Ulmer. To order oligos these days, "you just hop on the Internet, you tap away, and it comes in a tube... It's become a commodity... I can see sequencing going the same way."

The name Genome Corp. is borrowed from one of the first commercial DNA sequencing operations, launched by Harvard Nobel laureate Walter Gilbert 20 years ago. "My main concern was whether Wally would have problems with [the name], and he said, 'No, I can't object,'" says Ulmer. "It's somewhat gratifying to come full circle." 

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