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Indian-origin Cambridge academic wins top UK prize

By Prasun Sonwalkar
March 26, 2010 12:50 IST
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Shankar Balasubramanian An Indian-origin professor at the University of Cambridge has been named the Innovator of the Year by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is Britain's leading funding agency for research and training in non-clinical life sciences.

Professor Shankar Balasubramanian has been awarded the prize, worth 10,000 pounds, for his work on Solexa sequencing, the high speed genome sequencing technology that means it is now possible to sequence a human genome for less than $10,000.

Born in Chennai in 1966, Subramanian moved to the UK with his parents in 1967.

He completed his undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and then carried out a PhD under the supervision of Professor Chris Abell.

In the mid-90s, Professors Balasubramanian and David Klenerman of the department of chemistry recognised the need for low cost, high throughput sequencing that would enable researchers to undertake large-scale projects.

After conceiving various ideas involving DNA sequencing chemistry and detection systems, they founded the spin-out company Solexa to commercialise their inventions in 1998.

In 2007, Solexa was acquired by the US company Illumina for $600 million, making it one of the greatest commercialisation success stories to emerge from the University of Cambridge.

Receiving his award from Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, at a gala dinner in London's East Wintergardens, Professor Balasubramanian said: "None of this would have happened without the support of BBSRC. Their backing was essential for the blue skies research that gave rise to our original inventions.

"The continued funding of fundamental science by BBSRC will be an essential part of future enterprises and ultimately, wealth creation."

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive said: "BBSRC is pleased to be able to recognise and reward researchers who are making extraordinary progress in translating their research into applications that are of benefit socially and for UK Plc."

Image: Professor Shankar Balasubramanian. | Photograph, courtesy:

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Prasun Sonwalkar in London
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