Within the next few years it may be possible to go to Walmart, pick up a gallon of milk, and then stop by and have your genome sequenced while you wait. Sound unbelievable? Recent developments in the sequencing of your genome may make this a reality in the near future.

A company called Complete Genomics has recently announced that they intend to market the $5000 complete genome sequencing package. $5000 is not cheap, but it is definitely cheaper than some of the earlier efforts at genome sequencing.

The Human Genome Project cost 2.7 billion dollars, or roughly $1 per nucleotide in our genome. If the claims by Complete Genomics are correct, then the cost of having your 3 billion (+) nucleotides in your genome sequenced is be reduced to around $0.000016 each. And that opens the door for some pretty interesting developments....

First of all is the fact that the $5000 genome will ignite a form of biotech price war. When the first wide-screen plasma TVs hit the market, their average price was well over $5000. Many people wondered who would pay that much for a TV? But, very quickly, the price came down to the point where now you can get a wide-screen plasma for around $500. The same thing should happen with genome sequencing. Competition and technological advances will drive down the price, maybe even to less than $500. There is already financial incentive, the Archon X Prize in Genomics is offering $10 million to the first company to sequence 100 human genomes in less than 10 days. This is still a formidable task, but so was getting around the world in less than 80 days to Jules Verne.

The availability of inexpensive and rapid sequencing of individual genomes will be a huge asset to  companies who need large databases for genomics work. Once these large databases become available, extensive association studies of the human genome become possible. These studies have the potential
to reveal rare gene combinations that may be associated with some forms of diseases. This, in turn, has the potential to facilitate the development of new treatment options. As in any scientificexperiment, the larger the database, the greater the chance of finding something rare and interesting. Right now, we are limited the availability of these large databases by cost...but it looks as if thatmay be changing.

Of course, there are real ethical questions that need to be addressed, mainly to do with the confidentiality of the genetics information and who ultimately owns the rights to your DNA.After all, the insurance companies would love to know about that rare allele you are hiding that will not only shorten your life (and time paying premiums) and cost them thousands in medical costs.  We should be cautious of who has access to this information, but not so overly cautious as to delay development time of new technologies. In the long run, the availability of inexpensive genomic sequencing  will advance medicine in ways that are currently only science fiction.

For more information on the work being done by Complete Genomics, see the article by Peter Aldhous "Genome Sequencing Falls to $5000"