Millennium Technology Prize awarded to NGS pioneers

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

The Technology Academy Finland awarded the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize to Shankar Balasubramanian, PhD, and David Klenerman, PhD, chemists from Cambridge University, for the development of Solexa-Illumina next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology.

The low-cost, large-scale genome sequencing process for determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism's makeup has enhanced the scientific community's basic understanding of life. Balasubramanian and Klenerman coinvented the technology in 1998. The pair founded the company Solexa to make the technology more broadly available to the world.

The NGS method involves fragmenting sample DNA into many small pieces that are immobilized on the surface of a chip and locally amplified. Each fragment is then decoded on the chip, base-by-base, using fluorescently colored nucleotides added by an enzyme.

By detecting the color-coded nucleotides incorporated at each position on the chip with a fluorescence detector -- and repeating this cycle hundreds of times -- it is possible to determine the DNA sequence of each fragment. The technique's ability to sequence billions of fragments in parallel makes it fast, accurate, and cost-efficient.

NGS technology has revolutionized global biological and biomedical research and has enabled the development of a broad range of related technologies, applications, and innovations, including helping in the fight against COVID-19.

The Millennium Technology Prize has been awarded at two-year intervals since 2004 with a focus on highlighting the extensive effect of science and innovation on the wellbeing of society and is worth $1.2 million ($1 million euros). The 2020 prize was delayed due to COVID-19. This is the first time that the prize has been awarded to more than one recipient for the same innovation, celebrating the significance of collaboration, according to the organization.

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