Reading your DNA: what can it tell us?

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramian

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramian discusses the origin, development and impact of new technology to sequence DNA.

DNA is a linear molecule made up of four building blocks, often abbreviated to the letters G, C, T and A.  The sequence of these four letters forms a code that comprises 3.2 billion letters in a copy of the human genome.  The International Human Genome Project used an approach developed by Fred Sanger to generate the first human genome reference. This global collaboration spanned a decade.

Over 20 years ago, during the course of some basic scientific experiments, a collaboration with David Klenerman and Shankar Balasubramanian’s co-workers unexpectedly led them to conceive and then pursue a different way of sequencing DNA.

The initial experiments ultimately led to a rapid, low-cost sequencing approach, which was developed and commercialised through a company they co-founded, called Solexa.

Today the technique is able to sequence human, and other, genomes at a cost and speed that shows over a million-fold improvement compared to when the project began in 1997.

Sir Shankar reports on the impact of the technology on life sciences, medicine and society, and share a vision of what the future holds.

professor sir shankar balasubramanian

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramian

Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and senior group leader at the Cambridge Institute.  He works on the chemistry, structure and function of nucleic acids.  He is a co-inventor of the next generation DNA sequencing methodology.

Sir Shankar was knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2017 for his services to science and medicine and awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 2018.  In 2021, he shared the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize with David Klenerman.

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