Next generation DNA sequencing

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Research in the Department of Chemistry into the action of DNA polymerase on immobilised DNA substrates using single molecule detection led to the spin-out company Solexa, which was acquired by Illumina in 2007. Illumina has dominated the next generation sequencing market, developing technologies and platforms that radically reduce the run time and cost of Solexa Sequencing.

A key feature of the new sequencing technology is that it provides the means to achieve a massively parallel process by having many different DNA fragments immobilised on a surface that can be sequenced simultaneously. Previously, it had required years of effort and billions of pounds to sequence the first human genome.

Use of the technology that originated from the laboratories of Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman, and was developed in Solexa, has enabled a profound increase in the rate of sequencing and has had a major impact on human health and our understanding of the genetic basis of disease.

Today, the equivalent of one million genomes per year are estimated to be sequenced using Solexa Sequencing technology in academic and industrial laboratories, as well as in large genome centres. This democratisation of sequencing capability is changing the nature and culture of life sciences and rapidly broadening the impact of sequencing across fields such as plant sciences, environmental sciences, bioenergy and the study of all organisms.

For instance, Solexa-Illumina sequencers are the technology that underpins major projects such as the 100,000 Genomes Project, International Cancer Genome Project and Genome Asia 100k. Solexa sequencing has also been applied to the detection and early diagnosis of pathogen-related outbreaks, such as Salmonella, Ebola and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Illumina currently has over 7000 employees worldwide and a revenue exceeding $3,000,000,000 per annum (June 2021), a business which is almost entirely based on Solexa Sequencing.