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Genomic Vending Machines Coming To University Campuses

A Palo Alto firm is looking to post machines on university campuses that charge per computation for complex genomic calculations. The value prop: find malformed proteins or erratic genetic code in any sample in about a half an hour.

Genomic Vending Machines Coming To University Campuses

As college students make their way back to campus this week, they might find a peculiar vending machine posted up around the biology department. A Palo Alto company is doing university pilots with a series of machines that dole out super complex data computations to passersby, democratizing access to computing power which was, for many schools or individual students, financially unreachable.

The machines analyze both full genome sequences and exomes, or portions of genomes (typically 1 to 2 percent) where 85% of common diseases stemming from malformed proteins and erratic genetic code tend to surface. The jury’s still out about whether repeatedly sequencing exomes is as scientifically rigorous as sequencing the whole genome, but exome analysis is faster and cheaper–Bina’s machine claims to do it in 30 minutes.

For all you genome crunchers, Bina Technologies has a novel new solution–and while it’ll cost a little more than a dollar bill, their vending machine-style pay-per-computation machines are offering cost-effective processing without the need to purchase equipment.

Bina’s machine, the Bina Genomic Analysis Platform, was unleashed on the public in April 2012 as the latest in ever-smaller and more affordable gene sequencing devices that use “analysis pipelines” devised of finely tuned algorithms and a bank of CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs in place of a supercomputer. Indeed, when the machine was released, Bina claimed the hot-rod setup outpaced the affordable alternative, the Amazon Web Services cloud, by 10 to 100 times.

Cutting down full genome sequencing from nearly a week to under four hours is an obvious advantage for departments sharing any expensive machine, but Bina Technologies’ shift to per-computation charging offers options for researchers operating on different projects with different schedules: Instead of scheduling around monthlong device rentals, as Bina Technologies previously offered, the Bina On-Demand service bills at the end of the month.

The arrangement is still experimental, however, and there’s little point for Bina Technologies to keep machines around if researchers don’t charter enough computations to make it profitable. Installations will be given a six-month grace period to get campus researchers used to the idea of the machine’s on-demand, per-computation setup.

[Image: Flickr user Peter Thoeny]

About the author

David Lumb is a tech writer who dabbled in the startup world and once did an investigative article on pizza.



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