Verogen is committed to public safety and justice for all, serving those who pursue the truth using genetic tools. Powered by gold standard Illumina sequencing technology and working in partnership with forensic laboratories, Verogen is advancing science to unlock the true potential of forensic genomics. In this interview Verogen CEO Brett Williams shares more about the company and how they are leading the way in forensic technology.
Could you tell us a bit more about Verogen and the mission of the company?
Verogen was spun out from Illumina in August 2017. Prior to that, we were the forensic business at Illumina. We were somewhat unique as a startup as we had to go global instantly to support the global install base that Illumina had developed before the spinout of Verogen. Today, while we utilize the Illumina MiSeq platform and associated SBS chemistry, we are a completely separate business from Illumina. Our mission has evolved over the last couple of years from being primarily focused on forensic DNA analysis to one of being a biometric-based human ID business. In December 2019, we purchased GEDmatch. This genetic genealogy business connects people through DNA and is also instrumental in enabling the forensic genetic genealogy revolution that is taking hold in the forensic community.
In simple terms, how does your product MiSeq FGx® Forensic Genomics System work?
Verogen supplies an end-to-end workflow that encompasses a forensic version of Illumina MiSeq system (MiSeq FGx®), application-specific library prep products, forensic-grade sequencing chemistry sourced from Illumina, and proprietary analysis software.
What insights can the MiSeq FGx® Forensic Genomics System offer that differs from CE technology?
Capillary Electrophoresis (CE) is essentially a dead-end technology that cannot scale to meet the needs of a modern forensic unit. Targeted Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) overcomes limitations in forensic genomics by adding modern capabilities to human identification using nuclear DNA or mitochondrial DNA. NGS-based technology allows for the analysis of a broader range of genetic markers and, combined with an increased resolution at each marker, is valuable for excluding or including individuals as potential contributors of DNA found in a sample at a crime scene. The technology also allows for other kinds of markers, such as those that can predict the biogeographical and physical characteristics of an individual. At the end of the day, when NGS and CE are compared, NGS is all about more—more data, more details.
What are some of the challenges that forensic DNA laboratories face and how can Verogen assist in overcoming these?
Back in the mid-1990s when CE was brought into forensic laboratories, the unmet need was: Can I obtain an STR profile from the crime scene sample? Today the unmet need is: Who does that profile belong to? As described above, the Verogen NGS platform is capable of performing multiple applications to generate the maximum amount of data from a crime scene sample to drive toward a human ID. Moreover, the Verogen platform provides for common workflows, a single platform, and one software solution. This minimizes the amount of validation that a laboratory has to do and goes to meet a productivity need in operational forensic laboratories.
Which trends and technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
We expect that NGS will replace current CE technology utilized in the forensic field. New applications around predicting phenotypic features will become available, and we expect the sequencing technology to evolve to become faster and cheaper.