Science Scope

Coming soon: $1,000 to map your genes

Posting in Healthcare

Life Technologies aims to launch, by year's end, a machine that will map your whole genome for $1,000. Cue the revolution in medical prevention and treatment.

Soon, when you tell people, "It's all in the genes," you may be able to back up that statement with a copy of your genome.

On Tuesday, genomics company Life Technologies announced that, by year's end, it will launch a machine that can map and individual's whole genome for $1,000 -- and get it done in a day.

Mapping by current technologies that do the same cost at least $3,000 and take a week.

Many cheaper, commercial versions of this service map only a small snippet of the genome to give an individual information on his or her ancestry or disease susceptibility, whereas this would map a person's entire genetic makeup.

How knowledge of our genes will impact healthcare

If Life Technologies can deliver on its promise (previous companies failed to meet similar goals), its machine (called a sequencer) could be one of many developments that help usher in a world in which our individual genetic codes are routinely used in the prevention and treatment of illnesses throughout our lives.

This technology seems like an inevitable development given that drug companies are identifying specific gene variants and drugs that target them and that scientists are finding more and more links between certain diseases and mutations in specific genes.

So far, the Baylor College of Medicine, the Yale School of Medicine and the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Mass., have each signed up for a machine, which, with the accompanying technology, will cost $149,000.

If genome mapping becomes more widespread, the Wall Street Journal reports that it "can speed up or improve disease diagnosis and aid in developing more medical treatments targeted to patients with a specific genetic makeup."

It could also help individuals understand their particular risk for a disease or how well they might respond to specific medicines.

Hurdles to overcome and hurdles overcome

Several developments are needed before doctors could confidently use that much genetic information for medical benefit.

The Journal quotes Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute: "We can sequence the genome for dirt cheap, but we don't know how to deal with the data. We've got to work on that."

Still, the technology has come a long way quickly. It was only four years ago that Knome Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., introduced the first commercial human genome, which then cost $350,000. Until recently, the hefty price tag has put sequencing off limits to all but a handful of people, such as the late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.

To date, the National Human Genome Research Institute estimates that 1,800 whole genomes have been sequenced with high-quality technology.

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via: The Wall Street Journal

photo: Webridge/Wikimedia

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure