Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dovetail Takes Flight

Back in March I covered the unveiling of Dovetail Genomics' approach to scaffolding genomes via deriving long distance constraints from reconstituted chromatin.  This morning the company announced full access to their genome sequencing and scaffolding service.   Founder Ed Green and CEO Todd Dickinson chatted with me by phone last night about this launch.

Dovetail's offering is a complete service for sequencing or scaffolding large animal or plant genomes.  Users can choose from a menu of service components, which can range from scaffolding an existing short read assembly for around $10K to a complete genome sequencing and scaffolding for around $40K, with a turnaround in either case of 6-8 weeks and scaffold sizes on the order of chromosome arms.  

Since the beta program opened in the spring, Dovetail has worked to streamline both their wet lab and informatics protocols as they completed over 45 different customer projects.  Of particular note is that the input DNA requirements are down from 5-10 10ug to 1-2ug.  However, the Dovetail team agreed with my comment from before that with their current markets, de novo sequencing and structural variant calling on known genomes, input DNA has not been a serious constraint.  They do believe they can substantially reduce the requirements further, perhaps to a few hundred nanograms.

While the service offerings can include users supplying their own high molecular weight DNA, Dovetail prefers to perform the extractions in house.  The logic here is simpler: results are critically dependent on the size of the input DNA.  As a result, Dovetail has spent great effort becoming expert in extracting DNA from a wide variety of different species and sample types, as well as using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis for DNA quality control  

Dovetail is currently offering their Chicago technology only as a service, which has obvious advantages.  Anyone who has attempted technology transfer will know how difficult it can be to make a process consistently repeatable at multiple sites, not to mention the variances that can easily creep in due to the vagaries of shipping.  Aspects of this can be seen in the recently released MARC data for Oxford Nanopore.  For users, a pure service offering means no learning curve and no equipment purchases; just turn over some biomass to Dovetail and wait for a high quality genome to be returned.

That doesn't mean kits aren't in on the horizon; Dovetail does plan to offer them at some future point.  Also in future plans is expanding the service offerings to include metagenomes and haplotype calling. In the nearer term, a publication describing the scaffolding of a human sample (NA12878) and the American Alligator genome, which Dovetail has discussed in the past, is "well along" the publication pipeline.  While the current offering is based on Illumina sequencing technology, Dovetail emphasizes that the technology itself is platform-agnostic.  In a similar vein, when asked about how Dovetail differentiates themselves from the growing swarm of long range technologies, including Oxford Nanopore, PacBio Sequel, BioNano Genomics, and the now-launched 10X GemCode, their team praised the field  as full of exciting technologies, but emphasized that they offer the ability to scaffold complex genomes very fast with no specialized equipment and no new techniques to learn..

Personally, a pure service offering is very attractive, since that means not having to find internal resources to learn the new technology and then execute on it. I checked with Dovetail, and while I don't have $40K burning a hole in my pocket, if I did I could grab something out of the garden or from the local seafood market, I really could have a complex genome scaffold of my very own in about two months.  That's an exciting vision, and perhaps will be a major force in the sunsetting of science's tolerance for highly fragmented draft genomes.

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