Ion Torrent Launches $1,000 Genome Sequencer in SF

On January 10, 2012, San Francisco, The Ruby Skye nightclub — just a block from the 30th Annual J.P.Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Life TechnologiesIon Torrent division hosted a reception and gave a product launch presentation for their new genome sequencer, The Ion Proton.  The invited guests enjoyed a cocktail reception for about 45 minutes before taking their seats at the theater-like presentation space.

Greg Lucier, Life’s CEO appeared, made some opening remarks and introduced Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, Ion Torrant’s founder.  Jonathan spoke for about thirty minutes and recapped the history of Sanger sequencing, 454 sequencing, comparisons to advancements in the computer industry and how his son got him to think about semiconductor-based sequencing.  He explained the rationale for using semiconductor technology for the Ion Torrent sequencer. Rothberg said that using the Ion Personal Genome Machine (PGM) to quickly sequence the genome of the virulent e.coli strain found in a contaminated food outbreak that killed 50 in Germany last year demonstrated the value of the PGM for public health. He said that as a result of the e.coli outbreak experience, Ion Torrent developed assays that turned out to be ideal for healthcare research applications.

At this point, Jonathan stepped back to a black draped structure at the back of the stage and unveiled a rack containing four new benchtop Ion Proton genome sequencers.  Rothberg spent about ten minutes explaining the key details about the new Ion Proton machine.  Life Technnologies is taking orders for the the Ion Proton, which sells for $149,000. He said that these machines are ideal for customers that need to sequence exomes and genomes.  The machines are designed to sequence exomes for $500 and genomes for $1,000 in 24 hours. The costs mentioned are material costs. The Ion Proton uses two new chips.  The Proton I chip has 10X the density of the current 318 chip (1.65 million wells) used in the PGM, is for exome sequencing and will be available later in the Spring. The Proton II chip has even higher density, with about 660 million wells, is for genome sequencing and will be available later in 2012.  Jonathan said that he was impressed that at a starting point of just using the PGM chemistry kit, the Ion Proton produced 200 base pairs of sequence.

Greg Lucier and Jonathan Rothberg on stage with Four Ion Protons

After the presentation, I had an opportunity to see and touch the new Ion Proton machine located at the back of the reception area and spoke with the Director of Product Marketing who was there to demo some of the new machine’s key features.  He said that Life Technologies was taking its sequencers on the road in their new Ion Torrent Bus which was parked out front.  After our discussion, I went outside and climbed aboard their mobile sequencing lab in a bus.  The two spokeswomen there said that bus the has two PGM machines and will soon be outfitted with two Ion Proton sequencers for a total of four machines that can sequence DNA as they drive.  I asked if they would be visiting the upcomimg genome conference at Marco Island.  They said yes and would also be visiting universities and commercial centers.

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