A total of 11 people have received the prize, with three individuals going on to win a Nobel PrizeTrnava University/UNSPLASH

Two scientists at the University of Cambridge, Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman, have won the 2020 Millenium Technology Prize for their “revolutionary” DNA sequencing technology. 

The prize is awarded by Technology Academy Finland (TAF) every two years and is worth €1 million. 

TAF awarded Balasubramanian and Klenerman the prize in recognition of their Solexa-Illumina Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS) technology, which has enabled “fast, accurate, low-cost and large-scale genome sequencing.” 

The aim of genome sequencing is to determine the entirety of the DNA sequence of an organism’s make-up. 

NGS has led to a million-fold improvement in the speed and cost of genome sequencing: in 2000, the sequencing of a human genome cost over $1,000,000,000 and took over ten years whereas it now costs $1000 and takes one day. 

The NGS technology has broad and “transformative” applications, ranging from preventing future pandemics and fighting diseases to enhancing food production and biodiversity. 

Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, who is a Fellow of Trinity College, said: “I am absolutely delighted at being awarded the Millennium Technology Prize jointly with David Klenerman, but it’s not just for us, I’m happy on behalf of everyone who has contributed to this work.”

Professor Sir David Klenerman, Fellow of Christ’s College, also provided comments: “It’s the first time that we’ve been internationally recognised for developing this technology.” 

Klenerman added that “the idea came from Cambridge and was developed in Cambridge”, with Balasubramanian stating that the initial idea actually stemmed from an “informal discussion” in a Cambridge pub called the Panton Arms. 

Academy Professor Päivi Törmä, Chair of the Millennium Technology Prize Selection Committee, described the future potential of NGS as “enormous” and noted that “the exploitation of the technology is still in its infancy.”


Mountain View

Five Cambridge scientists elected as Fellows to the Academy of Medical Sciences

The prize was first awarded in 2004 and a total of 11 people have received it to date, with three individuals going on to win a Nobel Prize. 

TAF describes winners of the prize as pioneers who help scientific knowledge “bloom” with revolutionary innovations and new technologies.”