By Kevin Davies
March 20, 2009 | SAN DIEGO, Calif. – While hundreds of delegates were settling in for the first full day of talks at CHI’s Next-Generation Sequencing meeting, another crowd gathered to toast the latest gene-hunting voyage of J. Craig Venter. The renegade sequencer is preparing to embark on the final leg of his global expedition, a metagenomic tour de force on his yacht Sorcerer II in which his crew drops anchor, samples and sequences marine life every 200 miles, identifying millions of new genes in the process.
Venter made his living by exploiting Sanger sequencing, collaborating with Applied Biosystems (ABI) to form Celera Genomics in 1998. Celera sequenced five human genomes, including Venter, and shared claim to the Human Genome Project in 2000. Since leaving Celera (see “John Craig Venter Unvarnished,” Bio-IT World November 2002), Venter has continued sequencing his own genome at his institute.
Speaking at the CHI Next-Generation sequencing meeting this week, Pauline Ng said that her team had extended Venter’s sequence coverage by performing 11 runs on ABI’s SOLiD next-gen instruments, producing a further 8-fold coverage of his genome.
Another speaker, Michael Rhodes of Life Technologies, the entity formed last year by the merger of ABI and Invitrogen, presented details of the enhanced throughput and features of ABI’s new SOLiD system, teasing delegates, “What would you do with a $10,000 genome?”
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Life Technologies chairman and CEO Greg Lucier was hinting that Venter could prove a valuable partner in Life’s development of its “next-next generation” single-molecule sequencing system. Lucier told Xconomy.com’s Bruce Bigelow that Venter has joined the effort as a “technology partner.” So far, only Helicos Biosciences has commercialized a single-molecule sequencing platform, while companies such as Pacific Biosciences and Oxford Nanopore Technologies are preparing rival systems that could be on the market in 2010.
Lucier said that the J. Craig Venter Institute would test Life’s next-next gen technology on samples collected during the Sorcerer II’s latest voyage, and would help in commercializing the technology. That technology is based in part on last year’s $20-million acquisition of Visigen, a Houston-based single-molecule sequencing company founded by Susan Hardin.
Visigen was one of the first companies to tout its potential ability to deliver the “$1,000 genome” back in 2002 at a symposium moderated by … Craig Venter.