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BGI Saves Genomics Technology

A large Chinese sequencing center’s purchase of Complete Genomics, a California-based DNA services company, ensures the valued technology will remain on the market.

By | September 26, 2012

image: BGI Saves Genomics Technology cosmin4000, Istockphoto

Complete Genomics, a small biotech based in Mountain View, California, started sequencing genomes in 2009, using a technology that produced minimal errors in whole genome reads, catching the attention of many members of the scientific community. Despite this attention, the company suffered, losing $72.3 million in 2011. Earlier this month (September 17), the owner of the world’s largest sequencing facility, Chinese company BGI, announced its decision to spend $117.6 million to buy Complete Genomics’ shares and merge the two companies.

The buyout is being touted by researchers in the field as a welcome rescue to an important genomics technology in a field of dwindling choices. “Right now, Illumina would have a monopoly if Complete Genomics went under,” Michael Snyder, director of the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, told Nature. Such competition is critical to keeping prices low and to ensure that the technology will continue to evolve, he added.

Instruments made by Illumina of San Diego, California, account for most of the world’s sequencing output. Maintaining competition in the industry will keep prices low and technologies improving, Snyder says.

Currently, BGI relies primarily on Illumina products to perform the sequencing services it offers. Adding Complete Genomics’ specialized human genome sequencing instrument and software platform to its arsenal could improve the company’s accuracy and efficiency. According to a 2011 analysis, which pitted the two company’s technologies against each other in a head-to-head battle over a single genome, Complete Genomics’ won as the more accurate sequencer, though it found fewer variants relative to a standard reference. And this summer, Complete Genomics announced a new technique that further reduces error rates to 1 in 10 million base pairs, uses less DNA to get the sequence, and can differentiate between paternally and maternally inherited fragments.

“That’s going to be a game changer in how whole-genome sequences are interpreted and analyzed,” Thomas Barber, a geneticist at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana, told Nature. And with BGI’s acquisition of the smaller company, researchers all over the world can continue to take advantage of the new technology.

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