Your genome in one day for $1,000

Baylor College of Medicine receives new gene sequencer

By Kayla Reeves

Baylor College of Medicine will soon have the technology to decode human genomes faster than ever at a fraction of the cost.

Until now, analyzing a single genome could require up to $10,000 and months of waiting, but Life Technologies Corp. has created the Ion Proton Sequencer, a machine that will do the job in one day for about $1,000.

Baylor College of Medicine, which is not affiliated with Baylor University, will be among the first institutions to receive the machine.

“Previous genome machines have been light-based, with bulky cameras and lasers,” said Mauricio Minotta, senior manager of the corporate communications office of Life Technologies. “They have bigger pieces and more expensive equipment. Ours is semiconductor chip-based, so it’s very inexpensive and much faster.”

The machine can be used to point doctors toward better treatments for common diseases. In cancer research, Minotta said, the sequencer can analyze the DNA from a tumor sample and use the sequenced genomes to tailor specific treatments for that patient. It can also determine a person’s genetic vulnerability to problems like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease.

Minotta said he is confident in the machine’s accuracy and safety.

“It is about 99 percent accurate in sequencing the genomes, and doesn’t harm anyone because it only analyzes a sample,” he said.

But Dr. Patrick Danley, assistant professor of biology at Baylor, said there may be some ethical issues that come with this technology.

“Genetic testing of fetuses is an issue of concern, but the big thing is the release of genetic information to insurance companies,” he said.

For example, a woman could be denied insurance because she has the gene for breast cancer, even though she does not have the actual disease, Danley said.

Still, he said he believes the opportunities provided by this machine outweigh any possible ethical issues.

“This is a great opportunity in the area of education, too,” Danley said. “It can provide the chance to engage students in genetics research.”

Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the human genome sequencing center at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a press release that the machine “was a pipe-dream just a few years ago … but will transform the clinical applications of sequencing.”

The Ion Proton Sequencer, which is priced at $149,000, should be available by the end of the year.