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The Race for the $1000 Genome Project

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 11/14/2009

Fast and cheap; that's the future of gene sequencing. Dozens of companies are in a race to be the first to be able to sequence a human genome in under a day for $1000. There's big money to be made as participants believe that if analysis was more affordable many of us would take advantage of it.

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    Cheaper Genome Analysis

    $1000 is not cheap, but it's certainly more affordable than the several hundred thousand dollar price tag that sequencing a human genome currently costs. Plus, at the moment the results aren't usually ready for weeks. However, the technology is moving at a rapid pace. After all, it wasn't too long ago that the Human Genome Project completed its task, an endeavour that took more than 10 years and cost many millions of dollars.

    2008 also saw some companies offer personal genome analysis, with prices starting at $1000. Whilst it won't be able to give as much information as a full genome wide scan, it's a start, and it'll be interesting to see how society takes to the idea and if many people are willing to part with their cash.

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    $1000 Genome Project

    An image of the 46 chromosomes, making up the genome of human male - image released into the public domain by US Federal Govt. So if you could have your genome sequenced for $1000, would you? What could it tell you?

    According to supporters of the technology, having such detailed knowledge of your own genome means that should you fall ill, drugs could be targeted to your specific genetic make up.

    A $1000 genome analysis would also inform you about the relative risks associated with your likelihood of contracting serious genetic disorders such as breast cancer or heart disease. There may be a history of such illnesses in your family; genome analysis would reveal whether you have a genetic predisposition to suffer a similar fate.

    As with any technological advance the $1000 genome, when it is ready, should come with cautions. There could be a danger that an individual could read too much into their genome. A diagnosis that you may have a genetic predisposition to a particular condition is nowhere near saying that you will actually get that condition, as there are so many factors that come into play, such as environment, lifestyle and diet. However, such a diagnosis may well act as a motivator. For example, if you are a smoker and the tests come back saying that you have an increased risk of lung cancer, you may take that as a big hint to kick the habit.

    It's also worth re-iterating that a diagnosis of a predisposition to a disease is not confirming a date with the Grim Reaper. So people shouldn't throw their hands up in the air as if to say "well it's in my genes, there's nothing I can do about it." When the $1000 genome kit is available, the results should be analysed and interpreted with a skilled medical practitioner or genetic counsellor.

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    A Big Carrot

    A huge $10 million dollar carrot is being dangled in front of research teams to encourage them to speed up their efforts. The non-profit X Foundation is offering up the money to the first team that can sequence 100 genomes in 10 days for $10,000 per genome, or less

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    Era of the $1000 Genome

    It is likely that the $1000 rapid sequencing of an entire human genome within hours, will be achieved. Theoretically it's possible as there don't appear to be any inherent conceptual barriers to stop it from happening. But even when it is available it won't be able to reveal all about an individual's 'genetic well being.' It will not be possible to interpret the entire genome because there is still so much we don't know about the relationship of many genes to disease. However, this situation changes on an almost daily basis. In any case there will no doubt be plenty of takers for the $1000 dollar genome as many people may want the technology to dive deep into their cells and have a good look round, for nothing more than simple curiosity.