The Era of Fast, Cheap Genome Sequencing Is Here

Emily Mullin writes via Wired: The human genome is made of more than 6 billion letters, and each person has a unique configuration of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts -- the molecular building blocks that make up DNA. Determining the sequence of all those letters used to take vast amounts of money, time, and effort. The Human Genome Project took 13 years and thousands of researchers. The final cost: $2.7 billion. That 1990 project kicked off the age of genomics, helping scientists unravel genetic drivers of cancer and many inherited diseases while spurring the development of at-home DNA tests, among other advances. Next, researchers started sequencing more genomes: from animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses. Ten years ago, it cost about $10,000 for researchers to sequence a human genome. A few years ago, that fell to $1,000. Today, it's about $600. Now, sequencing is about to get even cheaper. At an industry event in San Diego today, genomics behemoth Illumina unveiled what it calls its fastest, most cost-efficient sequencing machines yet, the NovaSeq X series. The company, which controls around 80 percent of the DNA sequencing market globally, believes its new technology will slash the cost to just $200 per human genome while providing a readout at twice the speed. Francis deSouza, Illumina's CEO, says the more powerful model will be able to sequence 20,000 genomes per year; its current machines can do about 7,500. Illumina will start selling the new machines today and ship them next year. Illumina's sequencers use a method called "sequencing by synthesis" to decipher DNA. This process first requires that DNA strands, which are usually in double-helix form, be split into single strands. The DNA is then broken into short fragments that are spread onto a flow cell -- a glass surface about the size of a smartphone. When a flow cell is loaded into the sequencer, the machine attaches color-coded fluorescent tags to each base: A, C, G, and T. For instance, blue might correspond to the letter A. Each of the DNA fragments gets copied one base at a time, and a matching strand of DNA is gradually made, or synthesized. A laser scans the bases one by one while a camera records the color coding for each letter. The process is repeated until every fragment is sequenced. For its latest machines, Illumina invented denser flow cells to increase data yield and new chemical reagents, which enable faster reads of bases. "The molecules in that sequencing chemistry are much stronger. They can resist heat, they can resist water, and because they're so much tougher, we can subject them to more laser power and can scan them faster. That's the heart of the engine that allows us to get so much more data faster and at lower costs," says Alex Aravanis, Illumina's chief technology officer. Illumina's new system comes at a steep cost of around $1 million, which makes them more difficult for smaller labs and hospitals to acquire. They also often require experts to run the machines and process the data. That said, "Illumina's sequencers are completely automated and produce a report comparing each sample against a reference genome," reports Wired. "Aravanis says this automation could democratize sequencing, so that facilities without large teams of scientists and engineers can run the machines with few resources."

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TikTok Tracks You Across the Web, Even If You Don’t Use the App

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Consumer Reports: A Consumer Reports investigation finds that TikTok, one of the country's most popular apps, is partnering with a growing number of other companies to hoover up data about people as they travel across the internet. That includes people who don't have TikTok accounts. These companies embed tiny TikTok trackers called "pixels" in their websites. Then TikTok uses the information gathered by all those pixels to help the companies target ads at potential customers, and to measure how well their ads work. To look into TikTok's use of online tracking, CR asked the security firm Disconnect to scan about 20,000 websites for the company's pixels. In our list, we included the 1,000 most popular websites overall, as well as some of the biggest sites with domains ending in ".org," ".edu," and ".gov." We wanted to look at those sites because they often deal with sensitive subjects. We found hundreds of organizations sharing data with TikTok. If you go to the United Methodist Church's main website, TikTok hears about it. Interested in joining Weight Watchers? TikTok finds that out, too. The Arizona Department of Economic Security tells TikTok when you view pages concerned with domestic violence or food assistance. Even Planned Parenthood uses the trackers, automatically notifying TikTok about every person who goes to its website, though it doesn't share information from the pages where you can book an appointment. (None of those groups responded to requests for comment.) The number of TikTok trackers we saw was just a fraction of those we observed from Google and Meta. However, TikTok's advertising business is exploding, and experts say the data collection will probably grow along with it. After Disconnect researchers conducted a broad search for TikTok trackers, we asked them to take a close look at what kind of information was being shared by 15 specific websites. We focused on sites where we thought people would have a particular expectation of privacy, such as advocacy organizations and hospitals, along with retailers and other kinds of companies. Disconnect found that data being transmitted to TikTok can include your IP address, a unique ID number, what page you're on, and what you're clicking, typing, or searching for, depending on how the website has been set up. What does TikTok do with all that information? "Like other platforms, the data we receive from advertisers is used to improve the effectiveness of our advertising services," says Melanie Bosselait, a TikTok spokesperson. The data "is not used to group individuals into particular interest categories for other advertisers to target." If TikTok receives data about someone who doesn't have a TikTok account, the company only uses that data for aggregated reports that they send to advertisers about their websites, she says. There's no independent way for consumers or privacy researchers to verify such statements. But TikTok's terms of service say its advertising customers aren't allowed to send the company certain kinds of sensitive information, such as data about children, health conditions, or finances. "We continuously work with our partners to avoid inadvertent transmission of such data," TikTok's Bosselait says. What can you do to protect your personal information? Consumer Reports recommends using privacy-protecting browser extensions like Disconnect, changing your browser's privacy settings to block trackers, and trying a more private browser like Firefox and Brave.

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Intel’s Self-Driving Technology Mobileye Unit Files for IPO

Intel has filed for an initial public offering of its self-driving technology business, Mobileye Global, braving the worst market for new US listings since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. Bloomberg reports: The company didn't disclose terms of the planned share sale in its filing Friday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Mobileye will continue to be controlled by Intel after the IPO, according to the filing. Intel expects the IPO to value Mobileye at as much as $30 billion, less than originally hoped, Bloomberg News reported this month. If the listing goes ahead this year, it would be one of the biggest US offerings of 2022. Currently, only two companies have raised $1 billion or more on New York exchanges since Jan. 1, compared with 45 in 2021. This year, the US share of IPOs has shrunk to less then a seventh of the global total from half in 2021. Intel Chief Executive Officer Pat Gelsinger is trying to capitalize on Jerusalem-based Mobileye, acquired in 2017 for $15 billion, with a partial spinoff of its shares. Mobileye makes chips for cameras and drive-assistance features, and is seen as a prized asset as the car industry races toward fully automated vehicles. Now with about 3,100 employees, Mobileye has collected data from 8.6 billion miles on the road from eight testing sites globally, according to its filing. The company says its technology leads in the race to shift the automotive industry away from human drivers. It's shipped 117 million units of its EyeQ product. Mobileye has been a particularly bright spot for Intel and has consistently grown faster than its parent. As of July, it had $774 million of cash and cash equivalents. In the 12 months ended Dec. 25, it had a net loss of $75 million on revenue of $1.39 billion. The company said it plans to use proceeds from the IPO to pay down debt and for working capital and general corporate purposes.

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