The fade of big genomics

In a recent post, David Dooling asks why genome centers are forced to release their data early, when other smaller labs with a sequencing machine aren't. In responding to some of the comments on his post, David had this to say_

Most of what large genome sequencing centers are doing now are not the type of projects that were done five to ten years ago, i.e., not the type of projects that fall under Bermuda/Fort Lauderdale. The goals and end results of many of the projects are no different than those of single investigators.

I agree completely, and think it begs the question_ What do we need the sequencing centers for, then?

For many years, the centers were essentially acting as contractors. The NIH said_ We'll give you $50M, you give us a bunch of genomes. Back then, big centralized projects were necessary, because producing reasonable amounts of sequence required a lot of infrastructure and the economies of scale. Those times are quickly coming to an end.

It's no secret that sequencing is becoming a commodity. In just a year or two, any lab will be able to get hundreds or thousands of genomes sequenced, either in-house, or by sending DNA off to a company. The few remaining genome centers have tried to keep themselves relevant by focusing more on the science, but it's getting to the point where most of that science could be done anywhere.

Let me be very clear that I'm not anti-genome center (in fact, I'm affiliated with one here at BCM). I think that they still have a tremendous role to play in developing new sequencing techniques and bringing them into the mainstream. They won't fade away completely, but I think that we will see a marked reduction in the size and scope of the projects that they tackle.

Really, I think of this process as analogous to the early days of computing. Supercomputers at universities were the only game in town for a long time. They played their part and did amazing work, but the cost-reduction and decentralization of the computing infrastructure was ultimately a good thing. We're seeing the same thing happen in biology, and we'll all be better off because of it.


Written by Gribskov -

The reason is quality. A large center can (and in my experience does) perform much more quality analysis and produces more sequence more cheaply. The real question is, why would you want each and every lab to have to do this if you can get it done cheaply and better for a reasonable fee (note the qualifications_ cheaper, better). why not make your own labeled nucleotides or purify your own restriction enzymes? Cheaper, better, not too.

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