Harvard’s George Church Enters Genomics X PRIZE Competition

October 4, 2012

By Kevin Davies  

October 4, 2012 | BOSTON—At the Consumer Genetics Conference (CGC)* yesterday, Harvard Medical School professor George Church announced that his group will be entering the Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Express Scripts. 

Church and colleagues at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University become the second team to enter the $10 million contest to sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians, following Life Technologies declaration a few months ago. 

“The sequencing of exceptionally old yet healthy individuals may tell us more about health than studies focused on so-called common diseases in younger individuals,” said Church, in a statement. “The importance of what types of DNA can protect against human ailments hasn’t been studied enough, and the availability of open-access genomic data on such individuals will be invaluable.” 

The contest itself will be held in September 2013. Teams have until May next year to officially register for the competition. 

During his keynote at CGC, however, Church said the field of next-generation sequencing was moving so fast that he would not commit to which particular technology his team would be entering until nearer the competition date. 

Ironically Church has good relations with the first company to enter the X PRIZE contest, Life Technologies, as his prolific group has developed concepts or technologies that have been involved to some degree or other in the technologies underlying Life Technologies’ SOLiD sequencing system, the Ion Torrent platform, as well as nanopore sequencing favored by start-ups such as Genia Technologies (Life has invested in Genia). 

Church paid tribute to the promise of the Ion Proton desktop sequencer, which has just started shipping from Life Technologies. The mark 3 version, he said, would have a total of 1.2 billion pixels, while noting that the key enzyme, DNA polymerase, had the ability to go some 60,000 times faster. 

Church also pointed to immense potential for nanopore sequencing, as well as new work in his lab and others on in situ sequencing.  

In another announcement, Church noted that his group had entered into three-way collaboration with scientists at Columbia University to leverage Genia Technology’s nanopore system, which utilizes a CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) device, to accelerate the use of DNA sequencing in the clinic. 

*The Consumer Genetics Conference, Boston; October 3-5, 2012.