Anybody that remembers the sci-fi film classic, "Gattaca" knows how a genetic registry database could be used by biometrics to determine peoples' susceptibility to certain diseases later in life. While that fictional tale seemed so futuristic when introduced back in 1997, it's
reality is now. And not only is it within our reach, it also
comes with a
relatively reasonable price tag.
Stephen QuakeAs noted in Lancet, a British medical journal, Stanford bioengineer Stephen Quake has built a DNA sequencer/decoder machine that mapped his entire body - that is, the entire 2.6 billion-letter chain of his DNA down to the last chromosome.
Since the cause-and-effect relationships between illnesses and genes are not necessarily Gattacaspecific, scientists have calculated statistical correlations and probabilities. For example, if you have a certain sequence in your DNA, you may be more likely to develop a specific medical condition such as heart problems or cancer. A full sequencing of an individual’s DNA could alert doctors in advance of future illnesses. That could give them the jump on preventing the problem from ever occurring. Wired magazine has reported that early detection of cancer greatly raises the odds a patient will survive.
A VentureBeat report indicated that a the U.S. government’s Human Genome Project cost nearly half a billion dollars and took years to sequence one single person’s DNA. Quake’s updated sequencer did the job in four weeks for around $50,000. By the end of the year, the price may very likely drop to $10,000, and turnaround time will be even shorter.
Cheaper sequencing will boost the businesses of mid-2000’s startups Navigenics, 23andMe, Illumina and Knome. Another startup, Complete Genomics, claim they will eventually be able to do an entire human sequence for $5,000, but the company has not offered its services for sale yet.
With this advancement, comes potential social and medical restrictions. While genetic discrimination is forbidden by law, in practice it is easy to understand how someones' genotype could be used to disqualify some workers from certain jobs. This could apply to healthcare companies not offering insurance to people with predisposed conditions.
In the movie Gattaca, this topic was touched on when the lead character used the DNA of Double Helixsomeone else to qualify for a job as an astronaut. And when found out, he was considered a heretic against the new order of genetic determinism, and was labeled a "borrowed ladder" referring to using the uncoiled DNA double helix to elevate his status in society.
Nonetheless, how these technological advances will aid in preventive medicine is a significant break-through. And who knows, in the foreseeable future, 'getting your genes done' will become as commonplace as visiting the dentist.