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Barr Ellison Solicitors – commercial property
25 May, 2021 - 23:17 By Tony Quested

DNA dynamos tipped as Nobel Prize candidates

Rapid genome sequencing has become as much part of the DNA of Cambridge University innovation as Crick & Watson’s discovery of the double helix. 

And it has brought fresh glory for DNA sequencing pioneers and knights of the realm, Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor Sir David Klenerman, who have made history by being jointly awarded the Millennium Technology Prize for the 2020 competition – the result of which had been delayed by Covid. It is worth €1 million.

Three of the nine former winners have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize and some of the brightest brains within the University have told Business Weekly the dynamic DNA duo could be next.

As of October 2020, 121 Nobel laureates have been affiliated with the University of Cambridge and 110 of them are officially listed by the university as Cambridge’s Nobel Laureates for being alumni – academics who carried out research at the University in postdoctoral or faculty positions. The Millennium Technology Prize is a world-renowned S & T competition organised by Technology Academy Finland. 

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.

Professors Balasubramanian and Klenerman co-invented Next Generation DNA Sequencing 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 co-founded the company Solexa to make the technology available to the world and in November 2006 US giant Illumina swallowed the technology in a $600 million all-stock deal.

As Cambridge University reports, the technology continues to have a transformative impact in the fields of genomics, medicine and biology. The university says in its announcement of the Millennium Technology Prize success: “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 a single day at a cost of $1,000.”

More than a million human genomes are sequenced at scale each year, thanks to the technology co-invented by Professors Balasubramanian and Klenerman, meaning we can understand diseases much better and much more quickly.

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian –  from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and a Fellow of Trinity College – said: “I am absolutely delighted at being awarded the Millennium Technology Prize jointly with David Klenerman, but it’s not just for us; I’m happy on behalf of everyone who has contributed to this work.”

Professor Sir David  Klenerman – from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, and a Fellow of Christ’s College – said: “It’s the first time that we’ve been internationally recognised for developing this technology. 

“The idea came from Cambridge and was developed in Cambridge. It’s now used all over the world, so I’m delighted largely for the team of people who worked on this project and contributed to its success.”

The honour comes two years after Professors Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman won the Cambridge Enterprise Lifetime Achievement accolade in the Business Weekly Awards. Nobel Prize winner Sir Greg Winter was the inaugural winner in 2018.

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