The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine
As The $1,000 Genome makes clear, genomics may be the most important field of scientific research today. If each person’s unique DNA inheritance—including susceptibility to certain health problems and some physical tendencies—could be mapped out, this knowledge could potentially eliminate major diseases, destroy the health insurance industry, create a rigid socioeconomic class system, and hijack evolution to alter the very definition of what it means to be human.
Thus, ever since the first draft of human genetic sequencing was completed in 2000, companies of all sorts have rushed to cash in. Pharmaceutical manufacturers hope to find drugs that can precisely home in on genetic targets. DNA-screening companies aim to sell test kits or results to people who want to learn if they are at risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or diabetes, or who just want to investigate their ancestry. With the price of such screening plummeting from $1 billion for the first-ever sequencing to about $1,000 today (according to this book, although many published reports put it closer to $10,000), a personal DNA map could become a standard part of medical treatment. As author Kevin Davies writes, “It has already reached the point of another week, another genome.”
On the plus side, knowledge of their genetic tendencies can help people get appropriate diagnostic tests, alter their lifestyles, and make informed decisions about pregnancy. On the flip side, however, this knowledge could lull people without “bad” mutations into a false security or panic people with iffy mutations into unnecessary rounds of tests. Moreover, even at a mere $1,000, only those with a spare grand could afford the tests. And the long-term risk is that people will play around with their DNA to create designer babies.
Luckily, author Davies has a rare skill set (whether DNA-based or not) for writing this book: a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and apparent first-name relationships with some of the key players, along with an easy-to-read style that clearly explains complex biology while tossing in references to movies like Groundhog Day and Gattaca.
But the book desperately needs structure and summation. Most crucial: an opening chapter that could tie together the vast array of topics, tests, techniques, and companies in this field, with some sort of timeline and comparisons. What are the pros and cons of single-molecule DNA sequencing, pyrosequencing, linear strand analysis, DNA nanoballs, sequence-by-hybridization, and using a ligation DNA microscope? How is 23andMe’s work different from that of Solexa, deCODE, Navigenics, Knome, Cura Gen, and Applied Biosystems? Which has the most promising approach? Which was first? What has the most clients?
Without that grounding, the impressive and wide-ranging collection of information, examples, explanations, and implications in this book lose a lot of its value. That’s a real shame. There is good information here, as well as some fun reading, and it’s a vital topic for the future.