As we enter the second month of 2011 and the haze of 2010 clears, it seems the perfect time to think about what this coming year might have in store for researchers at the bench. What new technologies and methods might you see emerging and taking center stage in 2011? What scientific issues will come to the forefront? And how could these affect your work and time at the lab bench? Together with my fellow editors, I generated a list of technologies and methods to watch for in 2011; some of these may come to pass while others may not, and we'll have to wait until our 2012 retrospective to see how close our predictions came.
1. Democratization of next-generation sequencing. For years now, next-generation sequencing technology has been the realm of the core facility and sequencing centers. But that might change in 2011, as several instruments are emerging with price points and outputs that could put speedy, medium-scale sequencing technologies in the hands of any lab. First out of the gate is Ion Torrent's Ion PGM machine, priced at only $50,000 and initially capable of 10 MB of sequence output from a single run (see the Special News Feature by Jeffrey Perkel on page 93 for more detail on this and other emerging technologies). Several other companies are advancing nanopore approaches for sequencing as well, which are finally exhibiting progress toward a possible commercial product. Although these initial systems will not be capable of rapid, wholegenome sequencing like other platforms, with costs potentially one tenth that of other sequencing platforms, these instruments could open the field of next-generation sequencing to many more players in the coming months and years.
2. Cell line validation for all. While no one questions the need for better cell line validation— the sheer numbers of contaminated and incorrect cell lines shown in recent studies and editorials confirms this pressing need—the question of late has been how best to mandate cell line authentication prior to publication or grant submission. Early in 2011, several agencies and groups are expected to release recommendations for best practices in cell line authentication. These guidelines could finally provide a uniform format of standards to which journals and granting agencies will hold researchers accountable, a move that could finally stem the stream of incorrect cell lines.
3. Will RNAi finally deliver? RNAi has been an amazing tool at the lab bench for researchers around the world. But that tool has not been successful in therapeutics. The reason: delivery. The therapeutic delivery of RNA to cells to induce RNAi proved more complicated than many previously thought. In November 2010, pharmaceutical giant Roche terminated its RNAi research and discovery efforts, which was a blow to this struggling field of clinical research. 2011 could represent a critical year when it comes to RNAi therapeutics, as researchers and companies scrutinize their RNAi efforts even more closely to determine if the technology will ever fulfill its clinical expectations.
4. Focusing on the human brain. 2011 might just prove to be the year of the brain. The innovations of recent years in electron microscopy, fluorescent labeling of single neurons (Brainbow mouse), and computational algorithms are finally coming together to enable researchers to trace basic wiring diagrams of the brain. Add to this the advances made in the field of optogenetics (which enable stimulation of specific neurons in live animals using light), and researchers now have the tools to both decipher the circuitry of the brain as well as correlate neuronal wiring patterns to specific phenotypes.
5. Synthetic biology. J. Craig Venter sent shockwaves through the scientific community (as well as the public in general) in 2010 with his team's announcement of a synthetic bacterium engineered by stitching together pieces of DNA. While this accomplishment received a significant amount of press, methods to make synthetic DNA cheaper and faster also made news in 2010, creating new opportunities for researchers interested in synthetic biology and engineering. 2011 should see other approaches for large-scale DNA synthesis and assembly emerge, as well as methods to engineer genomes and create diverse collections of nucleic acid sequences.
While we only had space to list five areas to watch here, other topics, including enhanced genome browsers for large-scale sequencing datasets, improved fluorophores for in vivo molecular imaging, and the generation of more protein-protein interaction maps, could also be in the offering for 2011. If you think we missed anything or disagree with our predications, let us know by sharing your thoughts at our Molecular Biology Forums under “To the Editor” (http://molecularbiology.forums.biotechniques.com) or sending an email directly to the editors ([email protected]).