The $15 Genome through reduced reagents

A couple of people have asked me about a new publication claiming a $15 genome. The paper seems to suggest that by reducing reagent costs, the cost of sequencing a genome can be dramatically reduced, by a factor of 10 to 100x.

To support this claim the paper suggests that: “SCT has a much thinner reagent layer and unlike flow chips and has no tubing which decreases reagent usage by orders of magnitude. Since the reagent cost accounts for 80-90% of current NGS platforms this decrease in reagent usage of SCT drops the operating costs from about $1000 to about $15 for WGS.”

To support this statement they cite a paper which discusses an academic labs sequencing costs on a Hiseq 4000 [1].

The problem of course, is that the authors don’t have access to Illumina’s cost of goods. They just go by the cost Illumina sell their kits for. And as such you can’t use this in any way to justify that the reagent costs are 90% of the sequencing cost.

I’ve seen this a number of times from researchers. Who imagine that reducing the quantity of reagents used will have a dramatic effect on the cost of sequencing.

The truth is, Illumina likely sell consumables at 90% profit. So, if Illumina are selling a $1000 genome, we already know a $100 genome is possible.

Moreover, there’s a lot more than just reagents in Illumina’s consumables costs. In addition to the raw costs of the reagents among other costs there’s at least: packaging, logistics, and the cost of a nano patterned flow cell.

It’s reasonable to imagine that this nano patterned flowcell is the bulk of Illumina’s consumable costs of goods. And as such using a smaller quantity of reagents likely has minimal effect on costs.

What I did like about the paper is that it provides a potential method for simplifying the fluidics system. A simple, compact sequencing platform which just has to flow a single buffer over the flow cell [2] seems like a neat idea. But I don’t expect it to massive impact costs.

Talking of costs, Dante labs have recently been offering 30x human genomes for 150Euros:

Some have suggested that Dante sell their sequencing at a loss, and make up for it elsewhere… however I suspect the answer is that Dante uses MGI sequencing which they can get far cheaper than Illumina.

Dante don’t specify the technology used, but data quality metrics they’ve previously presented looked very similar to MGIs current offerings. Illumina have blocked the sale of MGI instruments in the US, and filed suits against them in the EU. This may in part explain why Dante are somewhat vague about who exactly is supplying their sequencing services.


[1] Some relevant quotes from this paper:

“When cost data were only available for a kit as a whole, kit costs were apportioned equally across all items in the kit.”

“The most expensive item was the HiSeq 4000 sequencing machine (Illumina), which cost £474,373, with an annual maintenance cost of £55,641. This sequencing system requires two consumable kits (a HiSeq 3000/4000 Sequencing by Synthesis [SBS] Kit costing £4207 and a HiSeq 3000/4000 Paired End [PE] Cluster Kit costing £2597), with half of each kit required per case.”

[2] They say not a flow cell but…