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Automated Sequencer

Refinements In Automation

Shortly after ABI placed its automated DNA sequencer on the market, the Dupont company introduced its own model, the Genesis 2000. Dupont had also developed a new method of labeling sequencing fragments: attaching the fluorescent dyes to the terminator bases. With this innovation, four separate sequencing reactions were no longer required; the entire sequencing reaction could be accomplished in a single tube. However, Dupont failed to effectively compete in the automated sequencer market and sold the rights to the dye terminator chemistry to ABI.

ABI continued to refine its automated sequencer. More powerful computers, increased gel capacity (to 96 lanes), improvement of the optical systems, enhancement of the chemistry, and the introduction of more sensitive fluorescent dyes increased the reading capacity of the instrument to over 550 bases per lane. The ABI PRISM Model 377 Automated Sequencer, introduced in 1995, incorporated these changes and could read, at maximum capacity, over 19,000 bases in a day. Even at this rate, however, the sequencing of entire genomes, as that of humans (3 billion bases in length), was still not practical. Genome sequencing awaited several further innovations.

Working with the Model 377 Automated Sequencer, a laboratory technician had to pour the slab gels and mount them on the instrument. This process alone was time-consuming and cumbersome. In addition, the technician had to add each sequencing reaction into each individual lane of the gel prior to the run. The MegaBase, developed by Molecular Dynamics, and the ABI Model 3700 Automated Sequencer, developed by ABI, addressed these limitations by using multiple capillaries, thin, hollow glass tubes filled with a gel polymer.

The ABI PRISM Model 3700 Automated Sequencer, developed with the Hitachi Corporation and having a price tag of $300,000, uses ninety-six capillaries, each not much wider than a strand of human hair. The capillaries are automatically cleaned and filled with fresh gel polymer between each electrophoresis run. The instrument is also equipped with a robot arm that automatically loads the sequencing reactions into the capillaries, greatly decreasing the amount of human labor required for its operation. The Model 3700 Automated Sequencer can read over 400,000 bases in a day, a greater than twenty-fold increase over the maximum capacity of the Model 377. Beginning in September 1999 and using 300 of these instruments, the Celera Corporation had sequenced the entire human genome five times over within four months.

Frank H. Stephenson

and Maria Cristina Abilock


Smith, Lloyd M., et al. "Fluorescence Detection in Automated DNA Sequence Analysis." Nature 321 (1986): 674-679.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1Automated Sequencer - The Need For Automated Sequencing, Refinements In Automation