Follow-up: gene sequencing and nanotubes

In the previous post I commented on complaints that genetic sequencing studies haven’t met expectations and shouldn’t get so much funding. That’s a debate that will be ongoing, but one indisputable result of the expectations for gene sequencing is that the technology for doing it has improved in precision while falling in price at a rate even surpassing Moore’s Law in computer chips.

The Human Genome Project was a labor-intensive, high-ticket item: ~$3 billion. But since then the cost of getting full genome sequences has fallen off a cliff. The holy grail of sequencing is ” The $1000 Genome”. That price point is expected within a year or two. At that point it is expected full genome sequencing will begin to become a routine medical procedure. Our genomes can become baseline data at birth for building a picture of how our health will play out in our lifetime. (Critics may warn that it may sell a lot of expensive machines but not contribute as much to fixing what ails us.)

Two reports have been made in just the past couple of weeks about two new nanotechnology techniques that will continue driving the trend. Just today Arizona State U put out a news release saying Stuart Lindsay of their Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute will be reporting in Science his technique for sequencing DNA by getting it to pass through a carbon nanotube. When the DNA passes through it causes electrical fluctuations that can be distinguished and interpreted by carefully measuring changing electrical properties of the nanotube.

This follows a similar report a couple of weeks ago that Boston University Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Amit Meller has demonstrated a technique for identifying DNA bases by convincing the strand to pass through a silicon nanopore where electrical signatures can be read.

So take your pick: carbon nanotubes or silicon nanopores. As ASU puts it:

Faster sequencing of DNA holds enormous potential for biology and medicine, particularly for personalized diagnosis and customized treatment based on each individual’s genomic makeup. At present however, sequencing technology remains cumbersome and cost prohibitive for most clinical applications, though this may be changing, thanks to a range of innovative new techniques.

…Lindsay emphasizes, DNA sequencing could be carried out thousands of times faster than through existing methods, at a fraction of the cost. Realizing the one-patient-one-genome goal of personalized medicine would provide essential diagnostic information and help pioneer individualized treatments for a wide range of diseases.

Hmm. Let’s wait and see.

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