Genetic Future

Sure is news to me – from

Archon X Prize for Genomics
Purse: $10 million
Goal: Sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for $10,000 per genome or less
Status: ZS Genetics, which is developing an approach that replaces fluorescent tagging with decodable electron-microscope images of DNA, is a favorite to win. [my emphasis]

i-e2cd7400657ceb323d1668e6fe4a86a9-zs_x220.jpgZS Genetics is developing an extremely unusual approach to DNA sequencing, which involves directly imaging DNA with an electron microscope (pictured to the left). The potential pay-offs of this approach are huge: in particular, this approach would have minimal costs in terms of consumables, would not require amplification of its input (potentially making gene expression studies more accurate), and theoretically would generate very long read lengths. However, the challenges of scaling this up to a massively parallel system – which is what is required for this platform to be competitive with existing sequencing technologies – are pretty daunting.

Given these technical challenges I’d be shocked if ZS Genetics managed to be the first to satisfy the conditions of the Archon X Prize. My impression was that PacBio was broadly considered to be a stronger contender – this company hasn’t even formally registered for the Prize yet, but back in February the PacBio CEO Hugh Martin boasted “When we’re ready, we’re just going to win the X Prize.” PacBio has certainly generated a bigger buzz in the genomics community than ZS, although of course that may have more to do with its PR machine than the strength of its platform.

Still, does know something about ZS Genetics that I don’t? I’d appreciate any pertinent information (or even scurrilous gossip) in the comments.

Subscribe to Genetic Future.


  1. #1 William Glover
    December 26, 2008


    PacBio is a great team with a great technology. When the competition starts, I expect them to be the team to beat. ZSG does have technical hurdles, which we’ve been working on. We don’t really do the PR thing much, we stay busy enough driving the tech. And yes, popsci does know some stuff that is not out there.


    Wm Glover
    President, ZS Genetics

  2. #2 Daniel MacArthur
    December 26, 2008

    Hi William,

    Thanks for your comment – very intriguing! I’ll look forward to seeing what comes out of ZSG in 2009.

New comments have been disabled.