[Ip-health] Tepid showing for genomics X prize : Nature News & Comment

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Wed May 29 09:27:21 PDT 2013


Tepid showing for genomics X prize : Nature News & Comment
Challenge may be too hard and commercially unnecessary.

Erika Check Hayden

29 May 2013

It was never meant to be a piece of cake — but neither was it meant to
be a flop. Yet as the 31 May registration deadline looms for the
Archon Genomics X Prize — a challenge to sequence 100 complete human
genomes in 30 days at unparallelled accuracy and low cost — only two
teams have entered.

The lacklustre showing is a testament to both the difficulty of the
challenge and the maturation of the DNA-sequencing industry in the
seven years since the prize was first conceived, genetics and
innovation researchers say.

“The business has become bigger than the prize,” says Jonathan
Rothberg, founder of the sequencing company Ion Torrent in Guilford,
Connecticut, which was acquired in 2010 by Life Technologies in
Carlsbad, California — which was, in turn, recently snapped up for
US$13.6 billion by Thermo Fisher in Waltham, Massachusetts. Ion
Torrent plans to compete, but other firms have apparently decided that
they have little to gain.

Yet the goal of the prize — to drive down the cost of sequencing while
improving its quality — matters just as much as it did in October
2006, when the X Prize Foundation, based in  Playa Vista, California,
first announced the challenge, experts say. Although sequencing costs
have fallen drastically (see ‘Plummeting costs’), that decline has
plateaued recently.


Part of the answer is that a genomics prize, unlike a rocket launch,
isn’t easy to explain to the public (see 'Other challenges'). As a
result it does not have the same publicity value, says Luciano Kay, a
researcher at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the
University of California, Santa Barbara. A competition for a
self-driving car that can go 10 kilometres is more attractive than
manipulation of matter or genes at tiny scales to accomplish a very
scientific or technical feat, Kay says.


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