Magazine article Science & Spirit

DNA: Cheaper and Getting Personal

Magazine article Science & Spirit

DNA: Cheaper and Getting Personal

Article excerpt

The cost of deciphering a person's genetic code has gotten cheaper, but DNA itself is growing far more complex, thanks to several developments this year.

One industry group has sequenced an individual's DNA for $1 million, while other firms hold out future promises of a $1,000 personal sequence on a computer disk. Meanwhile, those who are probing DNA more deeply are saying many previous assumptions of how it works are proving wrong, or at least too simple.

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"We're going to have routine genome sequencing long before doctors know how to make sense of it," said Michael Egholm of 454 Life Sciences in Connecticut, which in June produced a genetic sequence of the DNA pioneer James D. Watson. It took two months and less than $1 million, compared with the Human Genome Project's thirteen years and nearly $3 billion.

Other companies this year predicted they could generate an individual's DNA code for only $100,000. Many of them are aiming to win the $10 million "Archon X prize" set up by the X Prize Foundation of Santa Monica last year. It goes to the first group to sequence one hundred individual genomes in ten days--at less than $10,000 each.

A few days after Watson was presented with his DNA code, the National Institutes of Health announced just how complex DNA was turning out to be. The institute's three-and-a half-year project by thousands of scientists found that each person's presumably useless "junk" DNA was actually active. The findings forced geneticists "to pay attention to our non-gene DNA sequences," said project participant John M. Greally of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Typically, scientists believe only two percent of the DNA code produces genes.

The research project, called ENCODE, looked at a one percent sample of human DNA, choosing forty-four locations, half with known genes and half considered junk areas. …

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