Fireball gene machines

One of the themes of this blog — the ups and downs of the genetics revolution — just keeps on giving. Despite some skepticism about the efficacy of genetic research in finding solid diesease treatments, the likelihood of an avalanche of genetic data from sequencing seems inevitable. That trend is propelled by the furious competition of the last few years to build cheap, fast gene sequencers. The product development anticipates ubiquitous use of such information in biomedical research and in personalizing medical regimes. Two instances cropped up just this week:

  1. Illumina unveiled at this week’s JP Morgan investment conference an upgraded, updated version of its gene sequencing machine: the HiSeq2000 (in case you’re in the market). This $690,000 baby might even be tuned over the next year to bring the cost of sequencing a human genome to $2,500. Well, that’s enough for the Beijing Genomics Institute. They’re in for 128 of them! Geneticist Elaine Mardis, at Washington University in St. Louis says: “This really provides a platform that is going to propel studies of complex diseases like cancer and autism.”
  2. And, according to David Ewing Duncan on his FB page, in a stroke of one-upsmanship, Complete Genomics today promised a sequencing platform that will deliver the whole genome sequence for a mere $1,500. Remember, the so-called holy grail for human genomic sequencing is $1,000.

As Dr. Mardis suggests the availability of sequencers that can do the job so cheaply (ergo quickly) is going to shovel the coal to the fast-moving steam engine of genetics research. Skeptics would argue more data does not necessarily mean more useful results. I guess geneticists are adopting the attitude of the child in that old joke that has the punchline: “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

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