Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Unravel your entire DNA for just $1000

Sequencing the entire code of our DNA is something we have only been able to do for about a decade. In 2000, the first draft of the human genome, the full sequence of our DNA code, was published. It cost about 10 years to get it, and the costs rose to around 300 million dollars. Nowadays, it is much cheaper to sequence a human genome. At the end of 2012, a machine will become available that reduces the costs to a mere 1000 dollars. Though the machine itself is rather expensive, it will soon be possible for many people to sequence their entire DNA. Having your personal genome at your disposal greatly helps in personalizing medicine. The sequencer will be shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Sequencing the DNA is a matter of ordering the 'bases' (in green). They come in different shapes, known as A, T, C and G.
The company providing the sequencing machine is called Proton. They sell the Proton Ion Sequencer for a hefty 149,000 dollar. While it probably means not everyone of us will have a machine on their desks, it is actually quite affordable when compared to older machines. Hospitals and institutes for genetic research will likely be interested in the sequencing machine.
The sequencer, made by Proton.
Personalized medicine
One of the benefits of having your genome sequenced is that geneticists can figure out which of your genes differ from the general population. It helps us to see what exactly goes wrong in certain diseases, and we are also able to predict them more efficiently. In turn, it greatly benefits treatment. By uncovering which genes are affected, we can more accurately predict which drugs will be effective. Looking at patient-specific characteristics and base treatment on it is dubbed personalized medicine, something that is gathering more and more attention in the medical world.

One of the diseases in which it will greatly help us to know the exact genetic code of the patient, is cancer. Modifications in the genome are needed to make a call cancerous, which is why cancer is frequently dubbed a disease of the DNA. The exact modifications that lead up to a tumour tell us something about its characteristics. In turn, it will tell us which drugs will be the most effective. In the future, we will be developing more specialized drugs to increase the numbers of cancers we can cure, and to reduce the side effects. It is one of the areas in which personalized medicine will become important. And the reduction in the cost of whole genome sequencing will aid in achieving personalized medicine.

The initiative of uncovering the full genetic code of a human started in 1990. It costed the organization ten years to provide the first working draft in 2000. A complete genome wasn't published until 2003. In 2007, the world-famous geneticist Craig Venter published his own genetic code, which marked the first time an individual's genetic code was pieced together completely. Until then, pieces of different individuals were put together, much like a puzzle. Sequencing single genes is much easier, because the string of code is shorter. Our complete genome consists of about 20,000 to 25,000 genes. By sequencing specific genes of many individuals, we uncovered differences on specific sites of the DNA that often occur. We also discovered gene variants that consist of a different string of code and may cause a gene's product, which are proteins, to work differently. Entering the DNA era was essential to uncover causes of diseases and provide new treatments. After all, DNA is the blueprint for life.

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