$1,000 Genome Sequencing – Now Arriving – Imagine What’s Ahead

Not so many years ago, my sister was a bench scientist sequencing genes by hand. One weekend, she mentioned that she and others from Salk Labs were going to Silicon Valley to look at software touted as helping to automate gene sequencing.

Today, the $1,000 genome actually is arriving. Stunning progress. Imagine what’s ahead.

The device to make this possible is a $ 149,000 machine made by Ion Torrent. The company’s latest press release is here. The story – and related offshoots – can be found many places, such as Genetic Engineering News, the Financial Times, and Nature. The field is burgeoning – consider this excerpt from the story in the Financial Times:

"For a decade since the completion of the $3bn international research project to decode the first human genome, the cost of DNA sequencing has been falling faster than almost any other field of technology, as new methods are introduced to read the genetic code shared by all life on Earth. “A genome sequence for $1,000 was a pipedream just a few years ago,” said Richard Gibbs, director of the human genome sequencing centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “[It] will transform the clinical applications of sequencing.” Baylor is one of three large US medical centres, along with Yale School of Medicine and the Broad Institute, that will receive the first Ion Proton sequencers at the end of January, said Jonathan Rothberg of Life Technologies, who invented the technology used. Deliveries to other academic and commercial customers will follow over the next few months. Sequencing a human genome on most of the instruments working today costs $5,000 to $10,000 and takes up to a week, using optical technology to read the individual letters of DNA that are tagged with fluorescent marker. The Ion Proton machine cuts that substantially, by using semiconductor technology to read DNA directly through its chemistry. Life Technologies will not have the $1,000 genome field to itself for long. Other gene sequencing companies, such as Illumina of the US and Oxford Nanopore of the UK, are rapidly developing competing systems – and the cost is expected to plummet further, leading some to speculate that it will become routine for every baby to have its genome read at birth. Mr Rothberg estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 people have had their full genome sequenced so far, almost all for research rather than medical treatment. “I believe millions or even tens of millions of people will have their personal genome read over the next decade,” he said."

There also is a remarkable back story. Guess who is one of the creators of the company that created the new Ion Torrent machine?

Gordon Moore. Yes, that Gordon Moore – the creator of Moore’s Law on diminishing computing costs. And, on reading the Wikipedia entry, one discovers that Mr. Moore has done many other impressive things to drive science forward, including a $ 600 million donation to Caltech and creating a foundation that funds a range of science projects.

Here’s an excerpt from Nature’s story this past summer:

"The latest contender in the race for the prized ‘$1,000 genome’ has proved its mettle in a singularly appropriate way: by sequencing the genome of computer pioneer Gordon Moore.Each Ion Torrent chip sports 1.2 million DNA-testing wells.ION TORRENTLike the computer chips made by Intel, the company that Moore co-founded, the Ion Personal Genome Machine (PGM) exploits semiconductor technology, with its ability to deliver ever-increasing speed and lower costs — a trend predicted by ‘Moore’s law’ some 50 years ago. When Ion Torrent of Guilford, Connecticut, part of Life Technologies in Carlsbad, California, introduced the device late last year1, some scientists wondered whether it could live up to its promise to put a sequencer within the reach of any reasonably funded lab. Their doubts are likely to wane in the wake of the company’s latest demonstration, published this week in Nature (see page 348)."

#Science

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About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”

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