This story is from the NYT a couple of days ago and it shows us something of the future I’ve long wondered about–DNA sequencing. In 2008 it cost $5.7 million to sequence one person’s DNA–that is, to decode their entire genetic make-up. But a new DNA decoding device costs $49,000 and can sequence a genome in two hours. In other words, the cost is coming way down. The industry goal seems to be sequencing that costs around $1,000. The developer of the machine discussed here thinks that will be reached by 2013.
Now while $1000 can seem like a lot of money, in the grand scheme of medical care/ART it’s not that much. And I assume that if that $1000 threshold is reached, many people will have their DNA sequenced.
At this point you might be wondering what this has to do with any of the topics discussed here on the blog. Here’s the connection: There are generally two reasons why people say it’s very important to know your genetic lineage–to know the identity of the people who provided the gametes used to create you. One has to do with medical history, the other has to do with identity. (You can read a bit more about this in a recent post about family trees.) I’m going to focus on the medical history point.
Here’s another recent news clip about how the medical history point plays out: Sperm provider has genetic defect, children created are at risk. If you knew the provider had the defect you could monitor/evaluate the children. But if you don’t, you can’t/won’t.
But knowing the provider’s medical history is just a proxy for knowing your own genes. You don’t really care if his aunt had breast cancer–you want to know if YOU have a predisposition for breast cancer. Knowing family medical history has been the closest we can come to this kind of knowledge. But if you can read your own genes directly, then the medical history is second-best. Far better to know if you have the genes then to know that there is a chance you do.
Now to be clear while we may be able to easily and affordably read genes in 2013, that won’t mark the time when family medical histories go out of fashion. There’s a great deal we do not know about what genes mean/do. Medical histories will still be important, at least until we sort that out. But it does seem only a matter of time.
One final note: none of this discussion relates to the identity point I mentioned earlier. That’s an independent rationale that has to be considered separately.