When scientists announced the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, it was hailed as a major scientific achievement. For the first time, we had a complete sequence for the human genome – every one of the more than three billion nucleotide bases.
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But, while a landmark, in the time that has passed since, advances in the field of genomics have been so vast that they have virtually eclipsed the Human Genome Project. Indeed, what the Project achieved in the course of a decade can now be completed in a single day. And what then cost billions of dollars has been reduced to a three-figure sum, thanks to the arrival of next-generation sequencing (NGS).
The last few years have also witnessed another major landmark in genetics – the arrival of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). This gene-editing technology, which is uniquely simple and sophisticated compared to those that have gone before, has revolutionized and democratized the field of genome editing. The result has potential to transform research in fields ranging from basic science and biology, through to genetically modified organisms and gene therapy.
At Pittcon, taking place in Chicago from 5-9 March, 2017, we will be joined by many of the leading manufacturers who are providing the tools and technologies powering these latest developments in genomics, as well as hearing directly from some of the leaders in the field at the James L Waters Symposium on Genomic Analysis Technologies.
Next-generation sequencing and DNA screening
The arrival of NGS was the first of several recent transformative advances in genomics. By allowing millions or even billions of DNA fragments to be sequenced in parallel, it is many magnitudes faster than the Sanger sequencing used during the Human Genome Project. Compared with Sanger sequencing, NGS is also cheaper, captures a wider range of mutations, requires less DNA to work with, and needs no prior knowledge of the gene or locus under investigation.
Thanks to these characteristics, the arrival of NGS has also ushered in a new era of personalized genomics. DNA screening for disease genes, cancer diagnosis or prenatal testing, is becoming increasingly available. And as the costs of sequencing only continue to lower, more and more people will have their entire genomes sequenced, informing both medical research and their own healthcare.
While NGS has continued to grow exponentially cheaper and faster, in the last five years one development in genetics has held all the headlines: CRISPR/Cas9. The gene-editing technology harnesses the bacterial innate immune system to hone in on specific regions of the genome using a guide RNA. This directs the enzyme Cas9 to its target where it can cleave the DNA, allowing sequences to be inserted, deleted, or replaced.
CRISPR/Cas9 has opened up the possibility to conduct experiments that had previously been thought impossible. The technology can be applied to knock out or modulate genes to study their function, it holds immense potential in drug development and identifying new genetic targets, as well as enhancing our understanding of cell function. It is also likely to be used in agriculture, livestock breeding and environmental setting.
And CRISPR/Cas9 of course holds potential to be put directly to clinical use in gene therapy. Indeed, editing human stem cells, which could have a whole range of clinical applications, is a hotbed of activity in CRISPR research and in November, Chinese scientists announced that they had transferred CRISPR-edited immune cells into a lung-cancer patient for the first time as part of a clinical trial.
Genomics at Pittcon 2017
This year’s Pittcon will be hosting The Twenty-Eighth James L Waters Symposium on Genomic Analysis Technologies. This prestigious annual symposium focuses on scientific instrumentation of established and major significance. In 2017, it will be highlighting the history and technologies of Illumina, Inc., the market leader in genetic sequencing tools.
It will feature the speakers Jay Flatley, who was at the helm of the company during its rise to dominance in the genetic sequencing market, as well as co-founder David Walt, who is also a professor at Tufts University, Massachusetts. As well as providing insight into how Illumina established itself where it is today, the symposium will also hear from some of the most innovative companies that are creating the future of personalized medicine and consumer genomics. This includes Illumina’s own GRAIL, who are developing a universal cancer blood tests, LapCorp who are leaders in non-invasive prenatal testing, and Counsyl, who provide a range of accessible genetic screening and counseling services.
Furthermore, at the Pittcon Expo, you can meet representatives from leading genetic sequencing technology companies. This includes Eppendorf, who provide a range of equipment for genetic research including thermo-mixing devices, centrifuges, thermocyclers and CO2 incubators; Thermo Fisher Scientific who offer their Ion Torrent NGS machines and ready-to-use CRISPR/Cas9 products; as well as Vitl Life Science Solutions, Panasonic Healthcare and Malvern Instruments.
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