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DNA sequencing pioneer named BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2010

19 March 2010

Professor Shankar Balasubramanian has been named as the BBSRC Innovator of the Year, winning £10,000 in recognition of his work on Solexa sequencing, the high speed genome sequencing technology that is revolutionising bioscience. 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 last night.

Prof Balasubramanian from the University of Cambridge is an inventor of Solexa sequencing: an ultrafast method for sequencing DNA which has improved cost and speed by 1,000 to 10,000 fold on previous technologies. Prof Balasubramanian and colleagues founded Solexa Ltd in 1998 and following several rounds of fund raising 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 under $10,000.

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

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: "Turning research into innovation is crucial for our future prosperity. Finding practical applications for scientific discoveries is part of the joy of science. Today's winners make science exciting and relevant, with the potential to generate great benefits for our economy and society."

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, Prof David Klenerman, who I co-founded Solexa with in 1998.

"None of this would have happened without the support of BBSRC. Their backing was essential for the blue skies research that gave rise to our original inventions. The continued funding of fundamental science by BBSRC will be an essential part of future enterprises and ultimately, wealth creation."

Tim Smit said: "We face a number of important global challenges today - real life problems that are affecting individuals all over the world. To hear from researchers who are committed to setting their research firmly in context where it can really help people is truly inspiring. All seven finalists have shown that they are capable of realising the potential of their work and should be justly proud of what they have achieved."

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

The seven finalists (see 'Notes to editors' section for details) were selected from 36 nominations by an independent judging panel to compete in each of the three categories and for the overall prize. The finalists presented to the judging panel earlier on in the day and then attended the awards ceremony and gala dinner where the winners were announced.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "We applaud the three winners and we are delighted to take this opportunity to congratulate them for their achievements. All seven finalists have produced really impressive results in their work and I do not envy the members of the judging panel who had to choose between them.

"BBSRC is pleased to be able to recognise and reward researchers who are making extraordinary progress in translating their research into applications that are of benefit socially and for UK Plc. That said, we are also well aware that these brilliant few are merely the tip of the iceberg. UK bioscience is benefiting millions of people and generating huge wealth for the UK economy through, for example, the development of new drugs, including new antibiotics to tackle superbugs; higher yielding crops and better animal vaccines; strategies for healthier ageing; and sustainable and environmentally sound sources of fuel."

ENDS

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Notes to editors

The 7 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

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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