Dr. Rothberg is the founder of Ion Torrent, which last month began selling a sequencer it calls the Personal Genome Machine. While most sequencers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are at least the size of small refrigerators, this machine sells for just under $50,000 and is the size of a largish desktop printer.
While not intended for the general public, the machine could expand the use of DNA sequencing from specialized centers to smaller university and industrial labs, and into hospitals and doctorsí offices, helping make DNA sequencing a standard part of medical practice.
It is not as cheap as it sounds because it sequences only smaller genomes and consumes a $250 chip for each genome. But its cost, as well as the costs for competitors such as Illumina, will surely fall. We are definitely on course for the $1000 genome some time in the next 5 years.
What is interesting about it is the size of the machine and the promise of even smaller and cheaper machines in the future. The researchers in the article are intrigued by the idea of doing sequencing in a doctor's office. I suppose that will help in diagnosing infections. Certainly it will be done very widely to identify mutations in cancers and the best methods for treating each cancer. But leaving aside cancer most full genome DNA sequencing will not be done to diagnose a disease. Sequencing will be done to people who are perfectly healthy who just want to understand their metabolisms, disease risks, best diets, their genealogies, and other aspects of who they are.
Initially adults will get sequenced. But (again leaving aside cancer patients) once all adults have been sequenced only babies or candidate embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) will be sequenced. Future generations won't go to a doctor's office to get sequenced because they'll be born with known DNA sequences.
I can see one other reason adults will continue to be sequenced aside from cancer patients: surreptitious tissue samples will be stolen from people (or from their hair left on a hair brush or in other ways) to get their DNA sequence. Imagine the equivalent of Brad Pitt or Lady Gaga 20 or 30 years hence. Paparazzi might refrain from DNA sample stealing due to laws against it. But crazed fans will want to do it if they can secretly get DNA sequencing done. Well, if DNA sequencing machines continue to fall in price by orders of magnitude while becoming far more automated and easy to use then individuals will be able to buy DNA sequencing machines. Or they'll send DNA samples offshore to labs in countries with little regulation of the DNA sequencing business.
You can imagine how fans will be able to secretly publish DNA sequences by uploading DNA sequence data files from internet cafes with clues as to which celebrity they are for. Then what happens? Well, web servers with DNA modeling software will allow people to take an uploaded genome sequence and run algorithms to find out what the person looks like.
Recently 13 genetic variants that contribute to hair color were published. Genetic variants for height and eye color have been identified as well. Many thousands more genes for appearance and other attributes will be identified. So it will become relatively easy to take a genetic sequence and figure out whether it might be for a President, singer, politician, or assorted friends, enemies, or love interests.
Go even further into the future and I wonder whether stolen DNA sequences will be used to make babies.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2011 January 04 08:16 PM Biotech Assay Tools|