Sequencing

Credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI

Dubs, the Alaskan malamute and official mascot for the University of Washington is currently waiting to have a vial of his DNA handed over to the world’s largest genomics research centre, reports Wired.

BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute has sequenced the DNA of a variety of organisms, ranging from a giant panda to a 4,000 year old man named Inuk. The school’s leadership will hand over the husky’s DNA to mark a new partnership between the Chinese economics giant and UQ, along with a few other US research institutions.

Last week, BGI announced the launch of a West Coast Innovation Centre, co-located in Seattle and San Jose. The Seattle facility will focus on precision medicine and feature collaborations with UW, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Washington State University. The San Jose hub on the other hand, will support its ambitions to develop next-next-generation sequencing technologies.

Jian Wang, BGI’s founder and chairman, explained, “The idea is to promote the partnership between researchers in China and the US. We want to work more closely to provide health care communities in both countries with new tools for preventing and fighting disease.”

BGI claims to lead the world in total sequencing capacity. But in the last few years its aging army of machines has struggled to keep pace with newer, faster, cheaper, more powerful sequencers put out by Illumina and chief Chinese competitor, Novogene. 

However, BGI decided against investing in its commercial opponents and instead went ahead and created the next generation of sequencing machines itself. In 2013, BGI purchased Illumina’s main competitor: Complete Genomics in Mountain View, California. Sales were suspended after just three orders and its first attempt an undenying flop.

The company soon saw success after its BGISEQ-5-sequencer made headlines able to sequence an entire human genome for $600, making it 40% cheaper than the going street price on the Illumina platform.  Last year, the China Food and Drug Administration approved the sequencer as a medical device, allowing its use in clinical genetic testing; BGI has already shipped it to some of its partner laboratories and other customers.

With things looking up, BGI’s global head of research, Yiwu He, says that while it hasn’t sold any sequencers in America, the company is building up the manufacturing capacity to one day serve the US market. “It definitely has our attention,” he concludes.