Would you buy that washing machine?

On the Oxford nanopore MinIon Access Program

Nothing like a fancy new washing machine (source: wikimedia commons)

Let’s say you hear about this company that claims to have a revolutionizing clothes washer, and you get to try it out! For a refundable $1000, they will ship you a washer, and they have plenty of their special washing powder available, which they will happily sell to you. The thing is, though, the company hasn’t shown anyone how good it actually works, how fast it works, and how clean your clothes will become. Not just that, once you have the washer, you’ll need to first use it on dirty clothers they will send you, and you’ll have to send them back the results. Also:

Only after achieving “consistent and satisfactory performance” with the test samples will participants be allowed to run their own [clothes]

Would you buy that washing machine? I guess not.

Oxford Nanopore, the company that made such a splash anouncement in February 2012 about their fantastic new sequencing instrument, thinks differently. At the annual meeting of the The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in Boston this week, the company announced the ‘MinION Access Programme’. This program allowes interested researcher to buy the hand-held Minion sequencing device for a refundable $1000 and test it out. First,

participants will go through an initial restricted ‘burn-in’ period, during which test samples will be run and data shared with Oxford Nanopore. (source)

After that, participants can run their own samples (see the first quote in this post, which is also from the same announcement).

Ever since the first announcement of the MinIon and GridIon, the community has been asking for, and becoming more and more frustrated with, the lack of real Oxford Nanopore sequencing data to look at. Most sequencing companies (admittedly, not all…) happily share their latest and greatest reads for the community to tear apart. But Oxford Nanopore just trusts us to believe the hype and buy into this early access program. Reports on twitter indicate some researchers – and even a bioinformatician – were able to run the MinIon at ASHG. But still NO DATA was available after these runs.

On paper, the MinIon looks great, and I have no evidence that the MinIon will not produce great data, and sure, our centre will apply (you don’t want to miss out on this one! hypocritical, I know…). But why oh why does Oxford Nanopore refuse to let us have a peek at what comes out of what they themselves believe is such a great system.

Blogger Nick Loman called the MinIon Access Program a ‘Golden Ticket’, but in the book/movie, this ticket was hidden in products that people loved and knew were very good, and the ticket gave a few kids access to the factory. Is the MinIon Access Program more like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, with all of us acting like the emperor?

11 thoughts on “Would you buy that washing machine?

  1. On one hand, it makes sense that they want you to run control samples first. Got to be sure the users can do the prep before they start running their own “weird” stuff.

    On the other hand, not showing reads leads me to one of three possible explanations:
    – They’re hiding some serious read quality problems, hence the exclusive beta testing, in hopes that a larger community can fix it somehow.
    – Read quality is so good that they’re confident in post-processing/assembly. ie there aren’t any quirks, and existing assembly pipelines will just work.
    – Management/marketing is being overprotective to the point of stupidity.

    • Argument, flawed. You wouldn’t buying anything, it’s free! Only fools wouldn’t try something that is 100.000 times better than what they have, or rather don’t have because they can’t afford it…
      Literary content, poor. The analogy doesn’t really depict the situation very well.
      You do have a point, a very, very, small point, but you can’t please everyone, can you?

  2. I guess if I was a washing machine enthusiast – as in a REAL die hard washing machine expert, who washed clothes for a living, had a half dozen different kinds of washing machines in my laundry room, and worked hard to stay up to date with all the latest advances in washing machine technology – then yes. I might just buy that NanoWash system.

    On the otherhand, I’m not the above washing machine enthusiast. I just need one, or maybe two, washing machines that just work. No frills. No hype – just wash my friggen clothes so they are clean. So, in my own case the answer would be a firm No. I’m an early adopter – but not a beta tester.

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