Welcome to Gattaca: The rise of consumer-priced genetic sequencing
Ever since James Watson and Francis Crick cracked the genetic code, scientists have been fascinated by the possibilities of what we might learn from reading our genes. But the power of DNA has also long raised fears — such as those dramatized in the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca, which depicted a world where “a minute drop of blood determines where you can work, who you should marry, what you’re capable of achieving.” That was science fiction. Just three years later, President Bill Clinton announced that the once-futuristic dream of reading someone’s entire genetic code — their genome — had become a reality. It took hundreds of scientists nearly a decade to painstakingly piece together the first real look at the entire human genetic blueprint. It cost $3 billion just to make that rough draft. Twelve years later, the cost of deciphering a person’s genetic instructions has dropped faster than the price of flat-screen TVs. And the sequencing can be done much quicker. Instead of years, it can take just weeks. Instead of an army of scientists, all it takes is a new high-speed sequencing machine and a few lab techs. Instead of billions, it can cost as little as $4,000. And many are predicting the $1,000 genome is coming soon.
… “It is not theoretical or futuristic. It is today. And it is everyone,” said George Church, a Harvard geneticist who started the Personal Genome Project. The project is trying to recruit thousands of people around the world to get sequenced and post their genomes on the Internet, along with as much detailed personal information as possible. “We are hoping to get a preview of personalized medicine — and share that preview worldwide,” Church said.
… With the price approaching the cost of getting an MRI, many predict that sequencing will soon become part of routine medical care … Scientists recently even sequenced a fetus in the womb, raising the possibility of everyone getting sequenced before or at birth — a prospect with a whole new set of questions and concerns … Despite the concerns, it’s clear that more and more people are going to be getting their genomes sequenced. The question is: Is society really ready for this flood of genetic information and everything that comes along with getting to know our genomes so well?
— Rob Stein, “As Genetic Sequencing Spreads, Excitement, Worries Grow,” Morning Edition, NPR, September 18, 2012