The Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) industry is still young, but as more companies develop their own systems we’re now seeing new applications emerge for the technology. A wide variety of businesses and industries are thinking outside the traditional box of human or animal genome analysis.
Whilst the traditional applications in areas like precision medicine, diagnostics and hereditary diseases are continuing, that isn’t what I’m going to focus on in this article.
I’ve highlighted four areas where NGS is being used outside of the ‘traditional’ healthcare space. Some of which I was surprised to come across myself!
Oil & Gas
Not the first application that comes to mind for NGS, but Biota are using the technology to save oil and gas operating companies millions of dollars on their rig sites.
In an industry synonymous with uncertainty, Biota can provide assurances that companies are drilling in the most profitable places. Their diagnostic services help to maximise reservoir economics and reduce environmental impact (a big deal in O&G).
They do all this through capturing DAN data from natural subsurface samples, which is a chemical-free way of monitoring the well’s activity. They’ve enjoyed great success so far and now work with some of the biggest names in the market.
NGS is helping Jurassic Park go from Hollywood to reality.
Well, sort of.
Everyone’s favourite dinosaur movie was based on the idea of revitalising prehistoric genomes; whilst we’re not quite there yet, NGS is giving us an insight into the distant past. For examples, scientists have recently mapped the earliest Icelandic genome, taken from DNA samples.
Their research has shown that these first settlers came from Norway and the Gaelic regions 1300 years ago, which have eventually turned into the famous clapping fans we saw at this year’s World Cup (and who dumped England out of Euro 2016).
Genomics is being used to document the entire history of the human race, not just those alive today. Could the next step be footballing dinosaurs?
Food & Safety
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) has traditionally been the predominant way to use testing in food safety, but NGS has changed all that, offering faster and more accurate results across different pathogens. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. At least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food. A sizeable problem.
One company applying NGS to food safety are Clear Labs; their instrument ‘Clear Safety’ has been getting a lot of attention and watching their continued impact on the food testing market promises to be a fascinating journey.
Up until around 30 years ago, NGS and the idea of sequencing the human genome was a space age concept which cost hundreds of millions of dollars and took years of research. Today, that’s changed dramatically and NGS devices are more portable than ever.
This means that we’re now even able to sequence genomes in space. In 2016, Kate Rubins of NASA managed to sequence samples of mouse, virus and bacteria DNA in microgravity whilst on board the International Space Station.
With the recent news that Mars has found a 12-mile lake of liquid water and with colonisation of the red planet already being discussed by people like Elon Musk, the probability of our finding life there is greater than ever. And if we do, it’s likely that NGS will be used to analyse it. We just have to hope that the software will still be able to phone home…
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