Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cost of Gene Sequencing Falls, Raising Hopes for Medical Advances

Remember the Steve Jobs comment: “I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology.”

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — In Silicon Valley, the line between computing and biology has begun to blur in a way that could have enormous consequences for human longevity.

Bill Banyai, an optical physicist at Complete Genomics, has helped make that happen. When he began developing a gene sequencing machine, he relied heavily on his background at two computer networking start-up companies. His digital expertise was essential in designing a factory that automated and greatly lowered the cost of mapping the three billion base pairs that form the human genome.

The promise is that low-cost gene sequencing will lead to a new era of personalized medicine, yielding new approaches for treating cancers and other serious diseases. The arrival of such cures has been glacial, however, although the human genome was originally sequenced more than a decade ago.

Now that is changing, in large part because of the same semiconductor industry manufacturing trends that opened up consumer devices like the PC and the smartphone: exponential increases in processing power and transistor density are accompanied by costs that fall at an accelerating rate.

As a result, both new understanding and new medicines will arrive at a quickening pace, according to the biologists and computer scientists.


Related previous posts:

Steve Jobs quote about biology and technology

Playing God (BBC Documentary)

Related books:

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World