How Cheap Can Genetic Sequencing Really Get?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 8 2012 11:58 AM

How Cheap Can Genetic Sequencing Really Get?

In the New York Times today, John Markoff writes about the rapidly falling cost of genetic sequencing and the potential medical advances that may result. Markoff focuses on Complete Genomics, a California company that hopes to use computing and other approaches to break the $1,000 barrier; one of its machines “blends robotics, chemistry, optics and computing.”

Dozens of companies have been vying for some time to sequence a genome for less than $1,000. (The eternal optimists at the Singularity Hub predicted that someone would crack the $1,000 ceiling by the end of 2009.) The $1,000 mark is, of course, arbitrary in some ways, playing on our delight in rounded numbers. But low-cost genetic sequencing would certainly help bring about the personalized medicine we’ve been promised so long. Complete Genomics founder Clifford Reid has predicted that whole-genome sequencing could someday come “at a cost comparable to a comprehensive blood test.”


But Eric Topol, author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, is a bit skeptical of some of these optimistic predictions.  He tweets, “Whole genome sequencing at the cost of a blood test? I don't think so (if u include interpretation!)” A follow-up explained, “now we're talking about 6 billion bases, ~40X coverage, lots of unknowns, a big analytical challenge!”

Markoff’s piece is accompanied by a wonderful photo of Complete Genomics’ Bill Banyai looking off thoughtfully into the distance, hands on hips. Would that there were a superhero emblem on his lab wear.

Read more on the New York Times.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung


Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.


More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.