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DNA sequencing pioneer is BBSRC Innovator of the Year

Professor Shankar Balasubramanian has been named as the BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2010, winning £10,000 in recognition of his work on Solexa sequencing, a high-speed genome sequencing technology.

Professor Balasubramanian is an inventor of Solexa sequencing: an ultrafast method for sequencing DNA that has improved cost and speed by 1000- to 10,000-fold over previous technologies.

Professor Balasubramanian and colleagues founded Solexa Ltd in 1998, and after several rounds of fundraising and the launch of its core product The Genome Analyser, the company was sold to Illumina for $600M in 2007. The Solexa product currently has 50% market share in next-generation sequencing and can sequence a human genome for less than $10,000.

Professor Balasubramanian was also the winner of the Commercial Innovator of the Year category, and two other category prizes of £5000 were awarded to Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Stirling and Dr Michael McArthur from the John Innes Centre.

Professor Goulson was the winner of Social Innovator of the Year for his work disseminating findings about bumblebee conservation through the founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Dr McArthur was the winner of Most Promising Innovator of the Year for his work on using novel antibacterials to combat drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Professor Balasubramanian said: ‘I am delighted to accept the award of BBSRC Innovator of the Year and I do so on behalf of many people who have made important contributions at many stages of the Solexa project. I would particularly like to acknowledge my departmental colleague, Professor David Klenerman, who I co-founded Solexa with in 1998.

‘None of this would have happened without the support of BBSRC.’

Professor Balasubramanian received the prize and trophy from Tim Smit of Eden Project fame, who spoke at the awards ceremony and gala dinner at East Wintergardens in London.

The Innovator of the Year Award is designed to recognize and reward scientists who are ensuring that the UK's bioscience research is translated into outcomes that positively affect quality of life for everyone. The award, now in its second year, was established to encourage researchers to consider the potential of their research and take the necessary steps to maximize the social and economic impact of the excellent work they do.

The seven finalists were:

  • Professor Shankar Balasubramanian, University of Cambridge (The creation of Solexa sequencing®: technology for sequencing genomes)
  • Dr Ian Bancroft, Dr Martin Trick, Fiona Fraser and Dr Rachel Wells, John Innes Centre (Sequence-based tools to accelerate crop breeding)
  • Professor David Becker, UCL (NEXAGON: a novel drug for healing chronic wounds)
  • Professor Benjamin Davis, University of Oxford (Synthetic biology in the creation of bioconjugate technologies)
  • Professor Dave Goulson, University of Stirling (Bumblebees for everyone)
  • Professor Christopher Lowe, University of Cambridge (‘SMART’ HOLOGRAMS)
  • Dr Michael McArthur, John Innes Centre (Potent novel antibacterials to combat drug resistant bacterial infections)

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