Please indulge a long post from a personal perspective, what genomics is about to do for _me_. This is information that many, if not all, of our readers already know. I’ve been researching and working in either experimental biology or genomics for over 20 years. Ever since the beginning of the Human Genome Project , which coincidently started the same year I started my Ph.D. program, into my postdoctoral research at EMBL and now my work at OpenHelix, I’ve known that someday personal genomics was going to impact me, and millions of others, in a big way. Yet, it has always felt that it was one of those things that would be a decision I and we as a society didn’t have to make until we turned that corner that seemed always “just ahead.”
But now I think we’ve turned a corner. It feels, to mix metaphors, that we’ve hit a tipping point. The Human genome project, the mapping and sequencing of the/a human genome from 1990 to 2003, cost approximately 2,700,000,000 dollars (that’s 2.7 billion, I wanted to get all the zeros in). Celera did the genome for 300,000,000. The cost of sequencing an entire human genome has been plummeting ever since. In 2007, the cost of sequencing the genome of James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA) was about 2,000,000. The today cost is about 10,000. Complete Genomics and other companies are on the march to quickly reducing the cost of sequencing a genome under 1,000.
Let me graph the last 8 years for you, mind you, this is starting from the 300,000,000 number, not the 2.7billion, because that graph would be a straight line down.
So, within a year, the cost of sequencing your, my, genome will reach 1,000. If not less. We’ve seen this coming for years now, and it’s upon us. But what does it mean? A lot of data. But data means nothing without context and analysis. Sequencing my genome would be a waste of 1,000 dollars if I gleaned nothing from it.
Yet, even that seems to have turned the corner from a few tidbits of genetic information to a steady steam and the beginning of a flood.
You know you’ve turned a corner when a genomics testing company begins to offer genetic tests to the mass market through Walgreens. There’s enough context in that data to make money from it, or so they hope. You can be sure the corner is safely behind you when the FDA tells Pathway Genomics and Walgreens that they will need to hold off while they make sense of the regulatory implications. Genomic ancestry test are are also gaining is usability… and scrutiny.
It was the recent Lancet paper on the clinical analysis that seemed to be a tipping point, not for me or those in the field. Genomics has been on my radar since 1988, but for society. I blogged about the paper and it’s use of genomics resources such as GVS, dbSNP and others. In the paper, the researchers did a thorough clinical assessment of an individual’s genome. We’ve brought down the cost of sequencing, now we are learning how much it’s going to take to assess that data from a medical point of view, and importantly, what we can learn from it.
What can we learn from it? I read this paper again from a personal perspective now. Could I learn something from sequencing and analyzing my genome, and if so what. My answer came to this: yes, I could learn something and in fact enough that I’m not convinced that as soon as that sequencing gets down to a 1,000 or lower (and is a high quality sequence :), I’m going to do it.
There are three things I see from this paper that one could learn from assessing their genome: prevention, early detection and therapy. I believe the former will be, for most people, something they already know and their genome sequence will tell them nothing new. The other two could be a wealth of information they will want, even need, to know. You’ll notice I left off ‘cure.’ I saw nothing in this paper, and nothing on the near horizon, that suggests to me that our genome sequence data will help with curing anything. Perhaps, just not much. Yet, the possibilities of early detection of disease and personalized drug treatment are tantalizing. Continue reading