Decoding the $1000 Genome

The NY Times has chimed in on cheap DNA sequencing with this article from Nicholas Wade. Wade’s article deals with medical applications of affordable whole genome sequencing technologies (with the goal being the $1000 genome). The article, however, is cringe-inducing because Wade has decided that ‘sequencing’ and ‘decoding’ are synonyms (I hate it when people do that). Only yesterday did I bitch about science reporters butchering terminology, and Wade goes out and gives me multiple quotes in which he refers to genome sequencing as decoding a genome. Here’s a passage that would be readable if we found every occurrence of the word ‘decode’ and its variants and replaced them with ‘sequence’ and its appropriate variants:

Decoding a person’s genome is at present far too costly to be a feasible medical procedure. But the goal now being pursued by the N.I.H. and by several manufacturers, including the company decoding Dr. Watson’s DNA, is to drive the costs of decoding a human genome down to as little as $1,000. At that price, it could be worth decoding people’s genomes in certain medical situations and, one day, even routinely at birth.

Low-cost decoding may bring the genomic age to the doctor’s office, but it will also raise quandaries about how to safeguard and interpret such a wealth of delicate and far-reaching personal information.

The first human genome decoding, completed by a public consortium of universities in 2003, cost more than $500 million. With the same technology, dependent on DNA sequencing machines made by Applied Biosystems, a human genome could probably now be decoded for $10 million to $15 million, experts say.

The article focuses on cheap sequencing for medicine and bio-defense, but this technology would be awesome for molecular evolution. Imagine being able to sequence the genomes of multiple species from your taxon of interest with a modest NSF grant. Even better, we could generate whole genome sequence from multiple individuals from a single species for some awesome population genetics studies. That’s what gets me excited — not genotyping every newborn baby to see if he’s got a high chance of developing Alzheimer’s when he’s eighty years old.


  1. #1 MissPrism
    July 19, 2006

    The BBC still uses “crack the code” to mean “sequence”. It’e enraging.

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