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Your DNA - dirty deeds done dirt cheap?

By Roger Kalla - posted Wednesday, 15 October 2008

While the “masters of the Universe” of Wall Street are being shot down in flames genetic scientists are using their ingenuity no to invent another “weapons of mass financial destruction” but to reach the panacea of personalised evidenced-based medicine. They are basing this revolutionary concept on the knowledge of your own DNA and the 20,588 protein encoding genes encoded in it.

In 2001 the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium released the preliminary data on the sequencing and analysis of the human genome The announcement was made in a press conference at the White House hosted by Bill Clinton and with the leader of the public consortium, Francis Collins, and the enigmatic biological entrepreneur Craig Venter at that time leader of Celera Genomics who had his own genome sequenced in competition with the public consortium.

The analysis of the data took another two years to complete using the computing power of several super computers and involving several more research centres.


When the final annotated data was released in 2003 the cost for this 10-year project was an estimated $3 billion - one dollar for every base nucleotide present in the human genome.

The cost was beyond the means of any one individual besides a few ultra rich investment bankers, and required the combined the effort of 20 DNA sequencing centres in China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and the United States for the better part of a decade. In 2003 it was hoped a more affordable way of determining the whole sequence of one human would be available in the next decade or so.

The reason for the interest in determining the individual DNA sequence of any human is that if you knew all the genes of your own genome you could make an accurate risk estimate for many of the inheritable human diseases that you might be predisposed to or more importantly what drugs would work best in preventing or delaying the diseases from ever occurring.

Personalised preventive medicine based on personalised genome sequencing is the goal of many biotechnology companies that are fuelling the development of new DNA sequencing technology.

However, the rate of reduction in price per nucleotide base sequenced has been quite dramatic since 2003.

Computers, which are required to store and analyse the enormous amount of sequencing data created, follow Moore’s law that says that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit increases exponentially, doubling approximately every two years.


In comparison, the rate of reduction of cost in DNA sequencing has dropped by an astounding factor of 10 for every year for the last four years thus easily outpacing the increasing computing power of microprocessors.

In 2007 the second personalised genome sequence belonging to Dr James Watson was finished in two months and copied onto a DVD which was presented to him as one of the discoverers of the structure of the molecule of life. The sequence had been determined by one private company for a cost in the order of $2 million or a tenth of a cent per base sequenced.

However, the cost of determining a person’s complete genetic blueprint is following the course of the price of massively inflated shares and has recently plummeted to new depths that heralds the new era of personalised medicine based on personalised DNA sequencing.

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About the Author

Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.

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