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DNA Sequencing Gets Faster, Cheaper

So-called third-generation gene sequencing company Complete Genomics Inc. announced earlier this week that it has sequenced and delivered 14 human genomes to customers since March 2009, more than doubling the number of complete human DNA sequences published in the world to date. (The blog Fierce Biotech has a good analysis of the news.) Complete Genomics’ current customers include drug maker Pfizer, the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Duke University, and the Institute for Systems Biology and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. They are using the results from this pilot project to evaluate the company’s technology and to conduct small-scale disease studies relating to conditions including cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia.

Complete Genomics’ chairman, president, and CEO Dr. Clifford Reid says the company plans to sequence 10,000 human genomes in 2010, launching a scaled-up commercial operation that he says will offer volume customers entire sequenced genomes for as low as $5,000 or so. For comparison, a little over two years ago it was a big deal when James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double-helix, had his complete genome sequenced (by 454 Life Sciences, now part of Roche) for just under $1 million.

Harvard genetics professor and synthetic biologist George M. Church, a scientific adviser to the company, stated in the companies press release that Complete Genomics’ ” technology can clearly deliver high-quality genomic data, which compare favorably with other published results and at low cost.” Church had the company sequence one complete human genome for his Personal Genome Project, and says he will continue to outsource such work to the company as he strives to compile a database of 100,000 individuals’ DNA.

Interviewed in 2007 by New Scientist, James Watson predicted a revolution in our understanding of human genetic variation once reading an individual’s genome “gets down to the cost of a Chevrolet.” Well, we’re there. The more examples scientists have of the whole human genetic code, the better they’ll be able to determine how how specific genes and mutations result in traits that make us different, that predispose us to diseases, and affect our response to medicines. And, say true believers, an age of highly effective and efficient “personalized medicine” will become a reality.

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