Skip to Content

Complete Genomics–Fast, Cheap Sequencing Service

February 23, 2010

Companies are struggling to make it fast, affordable, and profitable to sequence individuals’ genomes–a tall order considering that until late 2008, fewer than 10 human genomes had been sequenced, and those at considerable expense. Four-year-old startup Complete Genomics, based in Mountain View, CA, thinks it has cracked the problem. It demonstrated its technology by sequencing what it claims were more than 50 genomes in 2009. Now it is scaling up its facility to sequence, it says, as many as 5,000 individual genomes in 2010, with 10,000 genomes a year thereafter, at $1,500 to $5,000 each.

The key to the company’s technology is the ability to analyze more than a billion amplified particles of DNA on a single microscope slide. Putting so much information on a single array reduces the number of slides and the amount of expensive reagent required to sequence a genome, and it speeds up digital imaging. Rather than selling its sequencing technology in the form of machines, reagents, and software, as its competitors do, Complete Genomics sells sequencing as a service, taking orders from researchers who FedEx samples to the company–eight genomes minimum, no maximum. “That’s a very easy business to scale up quite rapidly,” says CEO Clifford Reid.

For now, the company is taking advantage of the pent-up demand for sequencing among researchers, who have already placed orders ranging from tens to hundreds of genomes. After the initial research rush passes, Complete Genomics hopes to enter consumer and medical markets. The continuing drop in prices (see “A Moore’s Law for Genetics”) leads some experts to predict that soon the genome of every newborn will be sequenced at birth. That’s more than four million genomes per year in the United States alone. And most oncology researchers believe that sequencing the DNA of a patient’s tumor will one day be the key to effective treatment. Because every cancer seems to have its own set of mutations, its entire genome will be sequenced as if it were a person.

Given the potential demand, Reid is bullish. He says, “We expect to open 10 sequencing centers around the world that, collectively, will have the ability to sequence one million genomes over the next five years.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant
Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant

Renewables are set to soar

The world will likely witness a wind and solar boom over the next five years, as costs decline and nations raise their climate ambitions.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.