Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Personal Genome Sequencing: The Answer to All of Our Worries

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Personal Genome Sequencing: The Answer to All of Our Worries

Article excerpt

I am a worrier with a dilemma. I feel well, seem well, but wonder if, underneath it all, I may be ill. I've had sonograms and mammograms, angiograms and cardiograms, bone scans and CAT scans, glaucoma tests and dental tests, blood pressure tests and stress tests, colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, allergy tests and blood tests. Not to worry, I am always told; all is well. But then I wonder, am I "predisposed?"

Now I hear that the ultimate in diagnostic technologies may soon be available to tell me about my future--GenEngine, patent number 6,355,420. This technology will speedily decipher my entire genome in only about thirty minutes. With only a pinprick of blood, GenEngine will take out some DNA and shoot it through the system to get a complete genome scan. At the moment, the instruments can read 200,000 base pairs of DNA, but by 2006, they will read three billion base pairs, says Eugene Chang, the inventor of GenEngine and the founder and director of U.S. Genomics, which is developing GenEngine. It should be able to decipher a genome in less than ten minutes. Interestingly, this is the same length of time my physician, under my current health plan, is allotted for an entire physical exam. And the cost is expected to be under $1000.

Combining nanotechnology, microbiology, and bioinformatics, GenEngine will be able to handle the massive amounts of data. Instead of reading the book of life page by page, it will read it in "one fell swoop" at "very high speed." Nature, says Chang, reads DNA like a "ticker tape" or a high speed movie reel." So too will GenEngine.

As an entrepreneurial student, Chang was able to raise at least $25 million in private capital to develop the technology. It is obviously of interest to venture capitalists; for, when every child is born, their genome will be speedily scanned (at a cost), analyzed, and stored to be re-accessed at a later time. …

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