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Speed Reading the Human Genome

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 9/9/2009

Two groups of scientists report the rapid sequencing of the entire genomes of two individuals, at a relatively low cost. The research is a further step towards the day when individuals might be able to have their own genomes sequenced and it offers hope for the fight against disease.

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    By the time the Human Genome Project was completed, more than 10 years had elapsed since its beginnings and many millions of dollars had been spent. It was of course an incredible achievement and one that will have far reaching benefits in scientific research. In the realm of scientific dreams that was one that came true.

    There's another, and it too involves the human genome. It's the idea that one day we can all (should we want to) have our own individual genomes sequenced. Such technology should be able to spot any genetic mutations that might predispose us to some nasty diseases and prevent us from coming to a sticky end.

    However, there are at least two stumbling blocks; one is that such gene sequencing technology is very expensive. The other is the length of time it takes to sequence an entire genome. Currently, those stumbling blocks are being gently kicked away as news of the gene sequencing success of two research teams is made public.

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    Gene Sequencing Technology

    The Beijing Genomics Institute apparently managed to sequence the entire genome of a Chinese man in under a week and for under $1 million. In fact the entire project cost $500,000. Li Zhuo from the institute had this to say to the Reuters News Agency. "We can sequence a genome in less than a week for under a million (US dollars), the cost is going down. Maybe a year later, when we are sequencing the 50th person, the cost would be even lower."

    The Chinese scientists have sequenced one genome at the moment, but they plan to sequence 100 more and are currently on the look-out for volunteers. They want to find out if there are any common genetic variants in particular diseases which Chinese people appear to be more vulnerable to.

    The other low-cost genome sequencing approach was by a team of scientists from Illumina Cambridge Ltd. They sequenced the entire genome of an African man.

    Both studies appeared in the 6th November 2008 issue of the Nature journal.

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    Individual Genomes Sequenced

    There are many people in medical professions watching this kid of genomic research very closely indeed. As costs become lower, the speed reading of individual human genomes may become available to clinics and hospitals. Some are even hoping to sequence the human genome for under $1000. It would offer the doctor a much clearer picture of a patient's condition as a faster and more accurate diagnosis could be made. Then treatments could be tailored to an individual's genetic make-up.