DNA sequencing pioneers win the Millennium Technology Prize

19 May 2021

British duo Professor Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor David Klenerman have been awarded the Millennium Technology Prize for their development of revolutionary DNA sequencing techniques.

The duo’s Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology means DNA can now be read in super-fast times. This means huge benefits to society, from helping the fight against killer diseases such as COVID-19 or cancer, to better understanding crop diseases and enhancing food production.

The President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö, Patron of the Prize presented the award in a virtual ceremony on 18 May 2021.

Cambridge University chemists Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman are today announced as the winners of the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious science and technology prizes, awarded by Technology Academy Finland (TAF). The global prize, awarded at two-year intervals since 2004 to highlight the extensive impact of science and innovation on the wellbeing of society, is worth €1 million. Today’s announcement of the 2020 award was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professors Balasubramanian and Klenerman co-invented the Solexa-Illumina Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS), technology that has enhanced our basic understanding of life, converting biosciences into “big science” by enabling fast, accurate, low-cost and large-scale genome sequencing – the process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism's make-up.

They then co-founded the company Solexa to make the technology more broadly available to the world. The technology has had – and continues to have – a huge transformative impact in the fields of genomics, medicine and biology. One measure of the scale of change is that it has allowed a million-fold improvement in speed and cost when compared to the first sequencing of the human genome.

In 2000, sequencing of one human genome took over 10 years and cost more than a billion dollars. Today, the human genome can be sequenced in one day at a cost of $1,000 and more than a million human genomes are sequenced at scale each year, thanks to the technology co-invented by Professors Balasubramanian and Klenerman. This means we can understand diseases much better and much more quickly.

In addition to medical applications, NGS has also had a major impact on all of biology as it allows the clear identification of thousands of organisms in almost any kind of sample. This is now critically important for Agriculture, Ecology and Biodiversity studies.

Academy Professor Päivi Törmä, Chair of the Millennium Technology Prize Selection Committee, said: “The future potential of NGS is enormous and the exploitation of the technology is still in its infancy. The technology will be a crucial element in promoting sustainable development through personalisation of medicine, understanding and fighting killer diseases, and hence improving the quality of life. Professor Balasubramanian and Professor Klenerman are worthy winners of the prize.”

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.

Read more: https://millenniumprize.org/

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4RNbR4wZWw

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