Combinomics looks to sequence the unsequenceable

By Pete Young
Friday, 23 August, 2002

An Australian-developed technique for sequencing previously intractable regions of genomes is attracting increasing financial backing.

Based on the concepts of a young mathematician at the University of Queensland, the technique, called NovoSeq, is being developed by start-up company Combinomics.

The Brisbane biotech, launched last October with $400,000 in seed funding, has just picked up more backing in the form of a $250,000 Biotech Innovation Fund (BIF) grant.

Interest in the company is based on the problems posed for conventional DNA sequencing methods by large regions of genomes.

The enzymes used in sequencing reactions can "slip" or deliver confusing data when dealing with certain genome regions, particularly those dominated by long strings of repeating base pairs.

NovoSeq is designed to produce a more accurate analysis of those black holes and other areas in which conventional sequencing produces unsatisfactory results.

The new technique is made up of two components: a lab-based method for determining sequence information and a mathematical algorithm which operates on the lab data to retrieve accurate sequences.

The math component is based on concepts advanced by UQ mathematician Jonathan Keith and developed with colleagues Darryn Bryant and Peter Adams.

The laboratory component was developed by Keith Mitchelson, Brisbane-based research and technology manager of the Australian Genome Research Facility.

Mitchelson says other techniques to deal with unsequenceable data exist and more are probably in development. However, the Combinomics team and their financial backers believe NovoSeq shows superior promise.

The $250,000 BIF grant will fund an 18-month project to fine-tune the technology and develop independent methods for confirming sequence accuracy. One hoped-for commercial outcome by Combinomics is a product that could be made available under licence to the world's genome sequencing facilities.

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