The First and Last Meeting of Everyone with a Fully Sequenced Genome
Nearly every person who has had their entire genome sequenced will gather in a single room near Boston on April 27. It’s the last time this will ever happen.
Within a year, the dozens of people in this elite group will have been joined by a thousand or more people. Soon after that, hobbyists may be roaming the streets with handheld DNA analyzers, high school athletes may experiment with gene therapy to enhance their performance and pharmacists might check our genetic records before filling prescriptions.
“There was a time that only guys in white labcoats had the credentials and training to operate computers,” said Jason Bobe, co-organizer of the GET conference, where the fully sequenced group will meet. ”Nowadays, we’re all experts to some degree. This is happening in genetics too.”
Bobe hopes to recruit 100,000 people to donate their genetic information to create a public database for medical research.
The next five years will bring massive genetics experiments and breakthroughs in personalized cancer treatment, according to Harvard University geneticist George Church. Doctors will test medications on stem cells derived from their patients to check whether they will work.
The first human genome sequence, finished in 2003, cost an estimated $2.7 billion. Today, the price has dropped below $1,500 for a complete sequence, and it’s on the way to becoming so inexpensive that most everyone will be able to afford it.
But it’s not clear how we will use all of that information. Personalized medicine may be the most important use of DNA analysis, but many industries will be affected by the plummeting costs of gene reading equipment.
“Lets not overlook the ways that genomics will be incorporated into other aspects of our lives,” Bobe said, “like our foods, our households, our backyards, consumer goods, our identities and social interactions.”
The shelves of most big grocery stores are already lined with products that contain genetically modified vegetables. Students have used DNA bar code analysis to identify fake tuna in fancy sushi restaurants. And anyone can sign up for a dating website that matches people based on their genetic traits.
“Genetics know-how will have spread even faster than the rise of computers from obscurity in 1980 to access for everyone today, even in developing nations,” Church said.
Access to the event, however, will be limited. Only two-hundred people can attend, and tickets will cost $999. But anyone will be able to watch video clips of the best discussions for free.
Images: 1) The LavaAmp is an experimental DNA copying machine that could cost less than $100 and allow hobbyists to do genetic tests at home./Aaron Rowe. 2) A $68,500 genome sequence from Knome comes on one of these fancy flash drives./Knome