Front Line Genomics interview with Illumina CEO Jay Flatley includes a question from me

Issue 5 of the Front Line Genomics magazine is now online (in PDF format). The latest issue includes a fascinating interview with Jay Flatley, CEO of a little sequencing company you may have heard of (Illumina).

Continuing their trend of allowing former interviewees to ask questions, I was lucky enough to have one of my questions chosen for the interview. Here is my (somewhat lengthy) question along with Jay's response:

KB: When Apple introduced the original iPod in 2001, it was an expensive luxury ($400) that went on to change an entire industry. Remarkably, by 2006 the iPod product line was Apple’s largest source of revenue. Today, you can buy a cheap iPod knock-off for less than $20 and iPods now account for <1% data-preserve-html-node="true" of Apple’s revenue. Smart phones have made dedicated music players largely irrelevant.

So here’s my the Illumina of 2015 like the Apple of 2006? What does Illumina do when, in five to ten years’ time, everyone will be getting his or her genomes sequenced and analyzed in an automated manner for less than $100? If the HiSeq platform is Illumina’s iPod, what’s going to be your iPhone?

JF: That’s a great question! We certainly do believe in the 5-10 year time frame that the ability to sequence a genome will be available to everyone because the economics will be there and the clinical utility will be there. That will be an enormous market opportunity.

The first thing I would say is, unlike the iPod which became a commodity because the actual technology could be replicated by other companies – especially the physical interface, the headphone jack and storage inside the iPod. Sequencing is quite challenging by comparison. It requires the intersection of a dramatically larger number of technologies which all have to work together in quite a complicated and sophisticated way. Having said that, we think that our sequencers need to become easier to use, need to become faster, need to become cheaper.

These are all things we’re working on. We obviously can’t layout ourroadmap for people today, but there will be technologies beyond the HiSeq, and those technologies will ultimately enable people to sequence their genomes at much lower prices than $1,000. The trick for Illumina, of course, is to be the company that introduces that technology, and brings the equivalent of the iPhone that largely replaced the iPod to market and that we don’t let someone else do that before we do it.

The full interview starts on page 20 of the PDF, and you can access previous issues of Front Line Genomics magazine here.

Front Line Genomics interview with Craig Venter includes a question from yours truly

Issue 4 of the Front Line Genomics magazine is now available online. It includes an interview with Craig Venter who gave a much anticipated talk at their recent Festival of Genomics conference in Boston. Front Line Genomics kindly allowed some of their previous interviewees (which includes me) to pose some of the questions. Here's mine:

KRB: What do you see as the limits of synthetic biology? Could we assemble a functional eukaryotic genome, and what are the practical applications of such technology?

JCV: That’s a great question! The limitations will ultimately be more society limitations, ethical limitations, and standards rather than technology. I think a synthetic single eukaryotic cell would be very straightforward to do today. Various groups of scientists have been trying to build the yeast genome. It’s kind of like rebuilding a house one brick at a time, but they’re making a synthetic version of yeast. That’s not quite the same as writing the genetic code and then booting it up as we did, but that’s just because of the limitations on writing the genetic code now.

I think understanding what makes a multicellular organism, and all the regulation associated with that, are so far away from design that we’re going to have to learn a whole lot more biology before we get to that stage of deliberate design. I think about 10% of the genes in our designed synthetic bacterial cell, are of unknown function. All we know is that you can’t get life without them. That problem expands tremendously with eukaryotic cells. If you extrapolate to the challenge of interpreting the human genome, we only understand a tiny fraction of the human genome today.