Thursday, October 21, 2010

News from the future

I was floored today when the director of BGI told me they would soon reach a sequencing rate of 1000 (human) genomes per day (so, 10^5 to 10^6 genomes per year is right on the horizon). According to him, they can be profitable at a price of $5k per genome! [Clarification: I later learned this might mean at 10x coverage ... not exactly sure, although I tried to get a more precise statement.]

Sequencing costs are roughly 1/3 reagents 1/3 computing and capex and 1/3 labor. No one can compete with BGI on the last factor, and they've made truly original progress on assembly of short reads with their SOAP software package. BGI's ambition, which I think is realistic, is to be THE sequencing and analysis center for the entire world. There are significant advantages to scale in this business (think of the cloud computing and storage issues alone), and BGI currently has the lead.

BGI's main buildings are located in a gritty area of Yantian, which is the site of a major container port. The second building, just recently occupied, is a converted shoe factory. Trucks delivering containers to the port crowd dusty streets just a few blocks away. It's amazing to find world class technology and brains concentrated in a place like this -- the contrast could not be greater. But that's China today.

The view from building 2; note the container port cranes in the distance.

Here's a picture of the room where I gave a lecture yesterday. On the wall are Nature and Science covers featuring BGI research results.

Lecture 2.

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