Cambridge University chemists Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman were awared with a prestigious global science and technology prize award for their development of revolutionary sequencing techniques which means DNA can now be read in super-fast times on Tuesday, and were declared the winners of the 2020 Millennium Technology Prize.
Technology Academy Finland (TAF) awarded the prize at two-year intervals since 2004 – when Sir Tim Berners-Lee was honoured for his discovery of the World Wide Web – to highlight the extensive impact of science and innovation on the wellbeing of society, is worth Euro 1 million.
An India-born British professor of medicinal chemistry, Sir Balasubramanian and Sir Klenerman a British biophysical chemist, co-invented the Solexa-Illumina Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS), technology enabling fast, accurate, low-cost and large-scale genome sequencing which is a process of determining the complete DNA sequence of an organism”s make-up, which is proving crucial in humanity’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
To make the technology more broadly available to the world the duo went on to co-found the company Solexa.
The winning scientists said in a joint statement, “This is the first time we’ve received an international prize that recognises our contribution to developing the technology – but it’s not just for us, it”s for the whole team that played a key role in the development of the technology and for all those that have inspired us on our journey.”
In a virtual ceremony on Tuesday the Patron of the prize the president of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinisto, presented the award to the scientists. Though the announcement of the award was done in 2020 that was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the technology is being used to track and explore the novel coronavirus viral mutations, which is a growing global concern.
Paivi Torma, Academy Professor and Chair of the Millennium Technology Prize Committee said, “The future potential of NGS is enormous and the exploitation of the technology is still in its infancy.”
“The technology will be a crucial element in promoting sustainable development through personalisation of medicine, understanding and fighting killer diseases, and hence improving the quality of life. Professor Balasubramanian and Professor Klenerman are worthy winners of the prize,” said Prof. Torma.
Celebrating the significance of collaboration, the 2020 prize marks the first time that the honour has been awarded to more than one recipient for the same innovation.
Professor Marja Makarow, Chair of Technology Academy Finland said: “Collaboration is an essential part of ensuring positive change for the future. Next Generation Sequencing is the perfect example of what can be achieved through teamwork and individuals from different scientific backgrounds coming together to solve a problem.”
“The technology pioneered by Professor Balasubramanian and Professor Klenerman has also played a key role in helping discover the coronavirus”s sequence, which in turn enabled the creation of the vaccines – itself a triumph for cross-border collaboration – and helped identify new variants of COVID-19,” Makarow said.
The winning work has helped the creation of various vaccines that is now being administered all across the world and is critical for the creation of new vaccines against new dangerous viral strains and these results will also be used to prevent future pandemics.
However, the International Selection Committee stated that the body of experts that evaluates all nominations for the prize – pointed out that it had made its decision in February 2020, before the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology is allowing scientists and researchers to identify the underlying factors in individuals that contribute to their immune response to coronavirus.
How to minimize the chances of people developing exaggerated inflammatory responses, which is now understood as being responsible for some of the symptoms of COVID-19, the results of these have shown irreplaceable for understanding.
This information is essential to unravelling the reason behind why some people respond much worse to the virus than others. The results of these studies will be invaluable for understanding how to minimise the chances of people developing exaggerated inflammatory responses, which is now understood as being responsible for some of the symptoms of COVID-19.
The winning NGS technology has had, and continues to have, a huge transformative impact in the fields of genomics, medicine and biology. 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.
The prize committee points to how in 2000, sequencing of one human genome took over 10 years and cost more than a billion dollars.