Five years ago, Cologne welcomed a distinguished biotech company to the city. GATC Biotech had just centralised its Sanger sequencing laboratories from Constance, London and Düsseldorf to Cologne. The Cologne lab was equipped with technology spread on over 470 m2 of space and was staffed with 20 experienced employees eager to get busy with processing Sanger sequencing samples.
The location of the laboratory, in close proximity to the Cologne airport, made overnight Sanger sequencing an accepted and expected standard for GATC customers all over Europe. The company established a precedent in speedy sequencing and high quality data and is proud to deliver the fastest results to this day.
In the last five years, the Cologne laboratory has nearly doubled in size. Currently 27 employees work round the clock to deliver quick reliable data to GATC’s Sanger sequencing customers. To honour the lab’s birthday we took a brief walk down GATC’s Sanger sequencing memory lane with our Director of Sales & Customer Care, Mr. Jochen Schäfer.
1. What machines were used for Sanger sequencing in the 1990s?
In the early 1990s, we used our self-developed machines called “Direct Blotting System GATC 1500”. In 1995 the first 48-hours sequencing service was established with ABI 373, the so-called “Plate Sequencer”. In 2000, we changed over to Capillary Sequencing with ABI 3700 and introduced the world’s first 24 hour sequencing service. Since 2005 we have been using ABI 3730 XL and since 2006 we have been offering overnight sequencing with our NightXpress service.
2. How did the data look like back then?
In the 1990s the read size was only 450 bases, in the following years, the read length grew to 650 bases and now we have up to 1100 bases.
3. How long did it take to process and deliver the data?
At the beginning, it took 48 hours to sequence the samples, in 2004 it took approximately 24 hours and since 2007 we offer the “NightXpress” service. Customers drop off their samples in the evening and get their results in the morning between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.
4. How was the data delivered?
At the beginning data was delivered with floppy discs, in the late 1990s per e-mail and currently via the Internet. Customers receive their results directly in their online myGATC accounts in their Watchboxes.
5. What is the GATC “Watchbox” and how did this name come to be?
In general a “watch box” is a small container where you can store your watches or in our case, your sequencing data. With such a box you can keep track of the time or in our case you can keep detailed tracking of all your sequencing samples. At GATC, this analogy was accepted around the time of the introduction of the first LIMS-system in 1999. Customers can track all their samples with a Watchbox, which makes it an essential part of GATC´s processes.
6. How much did sequencing cost?
In 1990 the selling price was 20 to 25 DM (Deutsche Mark) for one Sanger read. By 2004, the price had altered to 12 to 15 EUR and with the ABI 3730 we reduced the selling price to under 10 EUR. Today a customer can purchase a bar code for a Sanger read starting a couple of Euros depending on the sequencing service.
7. How has GATC Biotech innovated the Sanger sequencing field?
GATC Biotech holds a lot of industry firsts. We had the first non-radioactive sequencer, the first 24-hour sequencing service, the first online ordering system for the life sciences and the first overnight sequencing service with results the next morning after sample receipt. (See our latest video about Logistics@GATC: Böxle on the road)
In addition, we were one of the first to introduce a barcoding system, where each sample is identified by a unique barcode. This made possible the full automatisation of the Sanger sequencing workflow, facilitated the ordering process and enabled easy online sample tracking for our customers.
8. How do you see the Sanger sequencing market changing?
It is getting faster and faster, because the orders are increasing and the applications are getting more diverse. We celebrated the first millionth Watchbox in February 2015, the second in December 2016 and the third we expect in 12 months.
9. What products does GATC Biotech offer for Sanger sequencing today?
We offer a variety of Sanger sequencing products. Our LIGHTRUN service is our simplest and most convenient sequencing service for both tubes and plates. The service offers quick, reliable sequencing of DNA samples pre-mixed with primer.
Our SUPREMERUN service is ideal for more challenging templates. This product is also available for single samples or high-throughput Sanger sequencing. The DNA and primer are provided separately. Here, the customer can choose freely from our expansive list of universal primers.