You Genome Belongs to You

Just four years ago, only two people in the world had their genome sequenced: James D. Watson (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) and J. Craig Venter (former President of the firm that mounted a private-sector rival to the Human Genome Project). There are now many thousands of such people.

At genome meetings, scientists are talking about millions of fully sequenced genomes in coming years. And after that…?

It cost roughly a billion dollars to generate the first reference human genome in 2003; last year a company would charge $10,000 for this service. This year it costs a few thousand dollars. And in a few years we should be able to get our genomes sequenced for a few hundred dollars.

At some point, our genomic information will get cheap enough for most of us to take the plunge and “get our genomes done.” It may be curiosity, or concern about disease risk, or interest in ancestry and biological relationships in the context of social relationships. This seems big and incipient. In most cases, the revelations will not be apocalyptic or world-changing, but hey, a personal genome sequence might be worth a few hundred bucks. And then, for the rest of our lives, we’ll be figuring out what the genomic sequence means, re-interpreting that information in light of new science. But there is a catch. We need access to the data.  Read more.

Robert Cook-Deegan is a Research Professor of Public Policy, Internal Medicine and Biology. Sharon Terry is Sharon F. Terry is President and CEO of the Genetic Alliance. The complete commentary was originally published on The Health Affairs blog on June 8.