December 12, 2007
Scientists Simulate DNA Nanopore Sequencer

The trend of using computer semiconductor technologies to manipulate biological material promises to revolutionize biological science and biotechnology. Orders of magnitude cost reductions become possible when very small devices are fabricated to manipulate cells and components of cells. Researchers at University of Illinois have created a simulated design for a nanopore-based DNA sequencer that could drastically cut DNA sequencing costs.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Using computer simulations, researchers at the University of Illinois have demonstrated a strategy for sequencing DNA by driving the molecule back and forth through a nanopore capacitor in a semiconductor chip. The technique could lead to a device that would read human genomes quickly and affordably.

Being able to sequence a human genome for $1,000 or less (which is the price most insurance companies are willing to pay) could open a new era in personal medicine, making it possible to precisely diagnose the cause of many diseases and tailor drugs and treatment procedures to the genetic make-up of an individual.

“Despite the tremendous interest in using nanopores for sequencing DNA, it was unclear how, exactly, nanopores could be used to read the DNA sequence,” said U. of I. physics professor Aleksei Aksimentiev. “We now describe one such method.”

Cheap DNA sequencing is going to most dramatically change reproductive practices. Once embryos can be fully DNA tested and the meaning of all genetic variations become known then a substantial fraction of the population will use in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PIGD or PGD) to select embryos to start pregnancies with. That act of selection will speed up human evolution by orders of magnitude even before we start introducing genetic variations with genetic engineering.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 December 12 11:05 PM  Biotech Advance Rates

Tom Schaefer said at December 13, 2007 7:43 AM:

Use this to preserve and increase the genetic redheads! These precious, delicious women are a dying breed. Concentrated in their northern european enclaves, there was enough, but now there isn't. Science should focus on isolating the genes that cause their beauty (red hair, blue eyes, fair skin, delicious smell and taste, perfectly sculpted feet) as well as some of their down side (tendancy to get fat). Then, lets have more and better!

Brock said at December 13, 2007 8:31 AM:


It will have to get REALLY cheap for a Gattaca scenario. Even if it costs $1,000 to fully scan a genome, that's $1,000 per embryo. I think it will have to go beneath $100 per embryo (in today's dollars) before you see widespread usage of the kind you suggest. $1,000 - $10,000 is the realm of "the parent's are carriers of specific diseases, just make sure the baby isn't." When it costs $10, that's when it will be "here's 100 possible kids - pick the best."

That will happen probably about the same time you'll have "gene donors." Kids will only be 99% related to their parents, as I expect that certain of the most useful genes found only in small numbers of the population (like super-strong cancer resistance, or 200+ IQ) will "lateral" throughout the entire population very, very quickly. Doctors will use advanced retroviruses or some better tool to introduce them once the "best embryo" is selected per your post.

Of the two, I think the second will drive evolution more than the first. The first just weeds out the really harmful mutations. The second is what will bring super-intelligence and whatever else to the greater masses in single generation.

HellKaiserRyo said at December 13, 2007 2:50 PM:

I think the government should pay for genetic enhancement for everyone except the very rich... it will be a large pay off later as it would save money that is being paid for in welfare programs and signficantly enhance GNP. It is redistributionism, but it is a permenant solution against that refractory problem known as poverty.

Also enhancements for altruism should be mandatory; that trait isn't prevalent enough in humanity. Maybe a standard deviation boost or two... too much might make us like ants or bees. Those damn communist animals.

I also want to eliminate the propensity for hierarchial behavior too. This is in contrast to an agenda that wants allegence to a totalitarian dictator.

Brett Bellmore said at December 13, 2007 3:28 PM:

This is where micro-machined biology equipment will come in handy: It will drop the cost of sequencing down to pennies, eventually.

What we're going to need is a micro-fluidics system that allows germ line cells to spit under controlled circumstances, maintaining the sperm, ova, and their complements in ordered storage. Then the complements can be sequenced, along with the parents, giving you the sequence of each of the undisturbed germ cells you might potentially combine, without anything even the most fanatic right to lifer would think was an abortion.

It should be possible to put the whole system on a single chip.

HellKaiserRyo, you're proposing to create the ideal subject race, but do you expect the rulers to allow THEIR children to be so altered?

HellKaiserRyo said at December 13, 2007 3:48 PM:

Well, don't you want people to create a race of Kahn Noonien Singhs. Tell me which will have the worst consequences.

HellKaiserRyo said at December 13, 2007 3:58 PM:

I also said eliminate the propensity for hierarchial behavior and relative status. It should be eliminated in EVERYONE including the rulers. One could do this by denying the rules the ability to alter their children... if the rulers cannot have (somewhat more) altruistic children with the propensity for hierarchy removed, then they couldn't have intelligent children and they should leave it up to nature. Altruism is a trait that should be handled carefully and too much altruism will probably destroy individuality... Of course, more altruism for humans will be conducive for a utilitarian agenda.

No, I do not want them to be servile or obsequious. I just do not want society to be permentantly stratified. Eliminating the natural propensity for hierarchy is one way to obviate any potential social stratification and eliminate it. Isn't eliminating social stratification the oppose of creating a subject race?

But I am thinking about how miserable it would be to be a poor person who isn't genetically enhanced. That' why it should be subsidized, much like education. But unlike no child left behind or Head Start, this would be cost-effective, although more expensive.

aa2 said at December 14, 2007 6:10 AM:

If we assume we could add anything we wanted in the human genome.. then I personally would make my child mainly like me and my wife.. just tweak some high benefit genes. For example if one small tweak could give 4 more points iq on average I would want it for my children. A series of ones like that and your children could be guarunteed in the top 1% of intelligence for people alive today. I think people will want children that look like them and have a lot of their traits.. just highly refined and incredibly gifted versions. Like very good looking, healthy and genius level intelligence.

For personality traits I wouldn't be interested in altering it that much. For status I live a spartan life and am happy to do so. I buy for utility or enjoyment. I think eliminating the drive for status in all people would kill some part of what makes us human as a species. But I can see some people are unhealthily obsessed with status, and I can see for them wanting to at least downrate it a lot for their children.

Brett Bellmore said at December 14, 2007 8:28 PM:

I think I'd go for filling in the gaps in our metabolic capabilities: Enabling the efficient excretion of heavy metals, synthesis of all the vitamins and amino acids we currently have to get in our diets. We're awfully dependent on a quality diet, with a bit of work we ought to be able to live off anything that contains enough energy, and the necessary elements.

Cedric Morrison said at December 15, 2007 9:51 AM:

Brock, imagine a couple of upper-middle-class professionals. They are in their thirties and have decided to have their first child. It will cost ten thousand dollars to test ten embryos.

I'll use intelligence as an example, but the parents will be able to consider any properties that the state of knowledge allows. As professionals, their IQs are quite a bit above average. They know, however, that the IQs of their children will tend to revert toward the mean if they don't take steps to prevent this.

Note that sequencing ten embryos will normally result in finding at least one that is an entire standard deviation in IQ above the average of the ten sequenced. Note that these parents would normally be willing to spend a hundred thousand dollars to pay for an Ivy League education for their precious spawn.

I think it quite likely that they would spend the ten thousand to find the embryo that is 15 or more points smarter than the others, and that isn't even taking into consideration the other characteristics that sequencing will screen for.

Randall Parker said at December 15, 2007 12:52 PM:

Cedric Morrison is right. People will take out second mortgages to get the cash needed to give their tykes a 15 IQ point leg up on the competition.

This means those couples who have the genetic potential to have very smart kids will have them. The upper middle class (excepting religious folks opposed to IVF with PIGD) will become consistently 130+ IQ and probably with an average north of 140 IQ.

Smart affluent single women who have given up trying to find Mr. Right will have the smartest kids of all when they use sperm donors pre-selected for very high IQ alleles combined with IVF and PIGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to select very smart embryos for implantation. The single women will be able to choose sperm of men who they could never persuade to marry them. The sperm of the smartest men will be in very great demand among single women who want to have kids on their own.

Very smart and affluent men who want offspring without all the trouble will offer cash to single women to have their 140+ IQ kids via IVF PIGD.

HellKaiserRyo said at December 15, 2007 2:37 PM:

I think the cost barrier is a reason why the government should be involved in eugenics programs as it would be necessary to make it available to all. Natural sexual reproduction disgusts me as it is characterized by stochastic chance. Isn't 10k cheaper for the government than paying for someone who would be one welfare most of their life. Embryo selection will prevent this, and widespread embryo selection will create progeny would are extremely innovative and productive too, so the government should pay for this.

HellKaiserRyo said at December 15, 2007 4:09 PM:

So what will happen to those who cannot afford to use the technology (those who aren't in the upper middle class)? What will happen to their children?

Should the government increase taxes on the wealthy to prevent further hereditary inequality?

Bob Badour said at December 15, 2007 5:55 PM:

Cedric and Randall,

Even without those considerations, one day genetic sequencing will be done on something like an iPod or a pregnancy test strip. Even the poor will use it eventually.

HellKaiserRyo said at December 15, 2007 6:20 PM:

I think the government should pay for it anyway... I do not want to risk a chasm of inequality...

Besides, it will be a worthy investment as the government will be creating productive citizens. If this technology is available, there will be an uproar by most people who want to use it. No one will allow their children to be left behind so there will be tremendous pressures by the people for a eugenics program.

Randall Parker said at December 15, 2007 7:39 PM:


Yes, governments should subsidize IVF+PIGD. The economic pay-off will be enormous. The boost in lifetime earnings will be a large multiple of the IVF+PIGD cost. Plus, crime and welfare costs will be greatly lowered.

But I expect elements of the Religious Right to oppose it on religious grounds. Also, I expect some on the liberal left to oppose it because they'll be invincibly ignorant and not want to admit the large role that genes play in determining intellectual ability, personality, and behavior.

aa2 said at December 15, 2007 10:45 PM:

I didn't think of taking the sperm of a very high iq man.. then screening amongst that sperm for ones that are way above average! That is really brilliant.

Guys read this article its a very well written and funny one about the growing use of Danish sperm worldwide:). Its the most positive news I've read in a long time.
How Danish sperm is conquering the world

"A thousand years ago the world faced a similar invasion of Danish men, rampaging into foreign gene pools, but this time it is not a nation but a crack corps of 250, super-fertile troops. And they don’t wear Viking helmets."

HellKaiserRyo said at December 16, 2007 12:54 AM:

"I didn't think of taking the sperm of a very high iq man.. then screening amongst that sperm for ones that are way above average! That is really brilliant. "

Then you must be an idiot, or engrossed with more potent methods such as genetic engineering.

I do not see how that would be popular for nuclear families though. Would a father want to father a child that has no biological relationship with? We have evolved our instincts to help propagate our own genes.

This question was explored in Richard Lynn's Eugenics and he doubts using sperm of high IQ donors would be a popular method for eugenics. Single mothers, yes.

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