If you read journals and got to conferences, there’s no chance you won’t have heard about long read sequencing. No Longer the privilege of the wealthy, long reads are opening up the doors of possibility. We chatted with Jonas Korlach, CSO of PacBio about his work in the company and how long-read sequencing technologies are becoming smaller, cheaper and more accessible.

Hear Jonas discuss long-reads live in webinar ‘Applying PacBio Long-Read Sequencing for Human Biomedical Research‘ on Thursday April 28th. 

 

FLG

“Along with Stephen Turner, you created the SMRT technology that is now central to PacBio’s sequencers. What was the experience of doing something like that as graduate students?”

JK

“It was such a great experience. It was great to work on something that most people at the time said would be absolutely impossible. It was lucky for us that we had professors who let us tackle this and let us pursue this. I took motivation from people saying it would be impossible. Actually, one of Watt Webb’s (my PhD supervisor) mottos was to do things that other people think are impossible…” “You have to have quite a bit of perseverance and conviction that what you’re doing will eventually work. You can’t get too depressed by all the failures and you have to value the moments when you do make the breakthrough. When something does work, it is an incredible moment as a scientist and methods developer. You cherish those accomplishments and they guide you through periods of failing attempts.”

 

FLG

“When did you realise that it was something you could successfully commercialise?”

JK

“There are two stages or two levels to that. So, one is, from the outset of having the fundamental idea behind SMRT Sequencing. We knew fairly quickly, and had a good feeling that we could make it work, and that it could be a very powerful sequencing technique with many different applications. The second layer is the commercialisation. I’ve had the privilege and luck to focus on the fundamental science and less on the commercialisation aspect. I suspect this is a good thing because I think my talents lay there. We had a commercial team available to make these assessments. In addition to making it work and proving the principles, there are many more considerations and challenges that go into commercialisation. So, I think it’s sort of gradual from the outset. We knew that if we could make it work it could be powerful but there are a lot of things that go into executing on the commercialisation.”

 

FLG

“You spend a lot of time visiting your users. What kind of feedback and input have they had in helping you understand where the field is going and on their own needs?”

JK

“The feedback from the users is extremely important and drives our strategies, the improvements we develop on the systems, and the direction we’re pursuing…” “They appreciate the superior sequence quality characteristics, of SMRT sequencing and what it empowers for discovery and understanding related to DNA research. They did indicate that the instrument was large and that it would be nice if the multiplex could be higher so that large scale projects could be undertaken…”

Long reads sequencing

FLG

“One of my favourite quotes from you at last year’s ASHG when you were unveiling Sequel was “Now PacBio is for everyone.” At that top level, as more people start to use long reads as opposed to short reads, what are we going to be able to look forward to as a result?”

JK

“The ramifications of long read applications can be seen today and I think they will continue to grow. We will generate more comprehensive information for genomes, transcriptomes, for epigenomes… and I think that will really translate to an explosion of a new discovery that has not been possible with short reads. This expanded knowledge will result in a better understanding of genetic differences between organisms, the relationship between genetic variations of gene, the role of the microbiome, infectious diseases, industrial applications of genomics and so forth in many different areas…”

 

FLG

“To take things in a slightly different direction we hear that you’re a big fan of classical music. I guess we’re wondering really a couple of things, one where did that passion come from and really secondly, if there are any particular areas or composers that you’re particularly fond of.”

JK

“My passion came from studying music, and music theory as an exchange student in Minnesota. It’s true, I do enjoy classical music, but I would say I have a wide range of genres that I enjoy, so there’s not really a particular era of composers I prefer. I enjoyeded all of them. Before my son was born a few years back I was a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for two seasons. That was an incredible experience in particular at the end of one of those seasons the Chorus long time director, Vance George, retired. And so that season featured just an amazing program, all the heavy hitters in the choral repertoire: Verdi’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mahler’s symphony of a thousand, and that was just an incredible experience that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

 

Read the full interview with Jonas Korlach in Issue Seven: The War on Cancer. He tells us about the true demand for long reads, and the techniques and companies where the next wave of innovation lies.