12 August 2011

Ion Torrent's Roadmap to the $500 Genome

Ion Torrent has made some bold claims about making 10x improvements every 6 months, and so far they've kept to that schedule (albeit only over a single 6 month period). In a recent Nature paper (covered by In Sequence 7/26/11) they detailed how they could shrink their features and increase the chip size to achieve first 165M and then 1100M sensors per chip. I've used this information, along with some really useful 'real world' feedback on the 314 and 316 chip from Nick Loman's blog (@pathogenomenick), to create a speculative roadmap for how Ion Torrent might achieve the 10x improvements through the middle of 2013. Assuming they are able to achieve the higher density chips in the timeframe I've listed (I don't think any timeframe was listed in the paper), that they can extend their reads out to 1000b (which seems reasonable given where 454 is today) and that they can improve the number of 'effective beads' (based on fill efficiency, # of 'live' beads, and # of reads passing the filters), it doesn't seem too unreasonable that they might maintain their '10x improvements every 6 months' goal out through the middle of 2013.

I also took a stab at what future chips might cost based on Rothberg's statement that they would hit a $1000 genome by 1/1/13 and a $500 genome by 7/1/13 (In Sequence 6/14/11). I'm assuming 90Gb per genome and $250 in reagents per run. (The prices listed are the initial prices at launch, but they've already demonstrated that the prices for 'old' chips may come down once the new chips are released.) Everything seems pretty reasonable until you get out to the (theoretical) 324 chip at $5000. Since Rothberg only predicted a 2x drop in price/genome from 1/1/13 to 7/1/13, they're either going to charge a lot more for this chip, or the 10x improvements will have started to peter out.

It should be fun to see how accurate this roadmap is. As always, comments and criticisms are welcome.

Chip1 Release Date Output Spec Sensors Fill Eff. 2 Live Beads Passing Filter Read length Calc Output Est. Chip Price
314 01/01/11 10Mb 1.2M 41% 67% 67% 100 20Mb $250
316 07/01/11 100Mb 6.1M 80% 67% 67% 100 200Mb $250
318 01/01/12 1Gb 11M 80% 67% 67% 250 1Gb $500
320 07/01/12 10Gb 60M3 80% 67% 67% 400 10Gb $?
322 01/01/13 100Gb 165M 100% 100% 100% 600 100Gb ~$750
324 07/01/13 1Tb 1100M 100% 100% 100% 1000 1Tb ~$5,000

1The chip names 320, 322, and 324 and release dates are purely speculative. I haven't seen Ion Torrent claim a new chip every 6 months, just that there would be 10x improvements every 6 months.
2The 'fill efficiency', 'live beads' and 'passing filter' metrics for the 314 and 316 chips came from Nick Loman. The values for the other chips are pure speculation on my part. The values for the 322 and 324 chips are surely a little optimistic, but they could be counterbalanced with longer reads to achieve the same output.
3The 60M sensor chip is also pure speculation on my part. Ion Torrent didn't mention this 'intermediate' chip in the Nature paper.


  1. You know this is irrelevant, cost of a genome could be free today on a 10,000$ machine and it would drive Life Technologies directly to bankruptcy. The adoption will simply not follow this roadmap and if it did, clinical sequencing wouldn't be truly used routinely in 2013... You and I both know that dirty little secret.

  2. I'd really question whether either fill efficiency or live beads can be gotten to 100%, and even if it approaches these I would expect more of a step-wise / asymptotic approach.

    Similarly, I will be surprised if the jumps in read length in the future are quite as large, particularly with smaller bead sizes to support higher densities. Perhaps they will get up to 1Kb, but I'm guessing it will be in smaller steps.

  3. Keith, I agree with you completely. I didn't attempt to layout the exact upgrade path, but rather take a guess at what the performance might be at 6 month increments.

    The 100% fill efficiency is pretty unrealistic, but I was using those #s as a kind of shortcut. The real point is that it will have to be pretty high unless the read lengths will be significantly over 1kb.

    And, yes, everything occurs in too-large jumps. That's just me being lazy. Maybe I'll go back and try to smooth it out a bit.

  4. Keith - one more point: the table already accounts for the smaller bead sizes/increased density. So, by mid-2013, even if they're at their maximum stated density, they'll either need to be close to 100% fill efficiency or at read lengths greater than 1kb. Or, they'll have increased the density or increased the chip size. They just didn't talk about that possibility in the Nature paper.

  5. Hi all
    Just wait a couple of months and you will see a serious competitor to this.

  6. Anonymous #2,

    It's now been 'a couple of months'. Has the 'serious competitor' emerged yet? Is it GnuBIO, ONP, someone else? Or do we need to wait a bit longer?