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The Nature of Competition

Amy Cullinan
| Nov 05, 2012

wordle finalFinally, after a long process of consideration, nonstop social media coverage, and many late nights, the voting is underway. The results will be announced this week to an international audience waiting on the edge of their seats. But who will win?

No, we’re not talking about the U.S. election results. We’re talking about the Win a MiSeq Grant program!  

Three winners will be chosen this week, each receiving one MiSeq system, ten sequencing reagent kits, a choice of sample prep (Nextera DNA Sample Prep or TruSeq Custom Amplicon), 1 TB of storage in BaseSpace cloud computing analysis, and Avadis NGS, a biologist-friendly bioinformatics desktop tool. Truly global in reach, the Win a MiSeq Grant contest generated over 850 entries, with proposals from 40 countries and territories and from every continent on the planet (yes, including one on an Antarctic microbiome). A large number of research proposals suggested using the MiSeq instrument for validation and extension of existing studies, or wanted to capitalize on the MiSeq system’s speed and cost-effectiveness to take the next step in an established body of work. This general approach was anticipated, given that next-generation sequencing is quickly becoming an indispensable biological research tool in almost every field.  

What was truly jaw-dropping about the grant proposals is the breadth of applications described for the MiSeq sequencer. Researchers proposed using the MiSeq system to study environments ranging from benthic ocean depths to the world’s highest mountain peak. The majority of grants fell into the categories of microbiology-focused applications, cancer, or inherited disease studies. Some very inspiring and urgent studies included neglected or rare disease research. Many entrants stated that the MiSeq system would be the very first NGS instrument in their institutes or their entire countries. Some fundamental and thought-provoking proposals included examining genomic changes through vast swaths of evolutionary time—interests ranged from studying ancient DNA to explore hypotheses on how civilizations rose and fell, to asking questions underlying speciation, biological diversity, and cellular function. Plant and animal ecology and conservation studies were also well-represented in the grant proposals, as well as some really interesting ideas featuring methods development in forensic, geochemical, bioengineering, and materials sciences.  

There were many truly original entries, including ideas for crowdsourcing and citizen-science projects, as well as proposals emphasizing cutting-edge high school and undergraduate-level genomic science training. Some really fun projects included developing a reality TV program, delving into the secret lives of office plants, time-travelling dentistry, saving the frogs, and how genomic changes impact the social and community interactions of insects. Maybe next year we’ll open it up to interpretive science dances.  

I don’t envy the difficult but exciting task the judges face in making the final choices—it’s going to be a formidable challenge to choose from among so many excellent entries. The criteria for selecting the winning proposals include scientific merit, individuality, and proposal fit with MiSeq capabilities. As my colleague put it, browsing the list of top contenders is exciting enough to make your heart skip a beat. The winners will be announced Tuesday, November 7th at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in San Francisco, CA. We will congratulate the winners of this grant competition and everyone who entered, but honestly, I’m even more excited about the future of next-generation sequencing as it propels new research studies around the world.