Now This is Progress

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Posted by: briansittley Comments: 0 0 Post Date: February 20, 2014

HiSeq_XWant a really good benchmark for just how fast we are progressing in our new century?  Try this: Just ten years ago it cost $3 billion dollars and took 13 years to sequence the first human genome in its entirety.  Today, it will take about $1,000 and one day.  That’s a percentage of increase of, well, let’s just call it about three-fourths of infinity.  (Besides, you know that 79.34% of all statistics are made up, right?)
Okay, so this is a tiny bit off-topic for a blog about software and ERP – but it’s such a great piece of technology news, and we are all about technology after all — that we could not resist writing about it.  So bear with us today.
This is a truly remarkable technological achievement.  A machine called the HiSeq X (pronounced High Seek Ten, pictured at left) is actually shipping today that will do it.  The machine costs about a million dollars, minimum order of ten please.
This is a little different from the folks at 23andMe who will analyze your saliva for $99.  That firm, co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, famously ran afoul of the FDA last year for some marketing claims for its low cost test.  That test analyzes only about half a million data points in a person’s DNA sequence.  HiSeq X, on the other hand, investigates all three billion base pairs in an individual’s DNA, those As, Ts, Cs and Gs that make up the human genome. 
HiSeq X zeroes in on about 1,600 genes that have “well-researched and proven links to 1,200 conditions” according to an article in the January 20th issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Armed with this information, a person can get clearer insights than ever before available about their own genetic makeup – insights that in many cases can lead to lifestyle, behavioral or medical changes that can actually prevent the onset of certain conditions.  It’s not a panacea, but the benefits to, say, a child with a rare disease that previously went undiagnosed and who can now be treated, can be life-altering. 
Just last year, scientists broke the $10,000 cost barrier for such a test.  Now, just a year later, it will be close to $1,000, thanks to the San Diego based company called Illumina that builds the machine.  Now that’s progress.  This feels like Moore’s law on steroids, but it’s true, real, and here.  The machine is actually shipping, notes its longtime CEO Jay Flatley.
Best of all, as gene sequencing gets cheaper, Flatley concludes in the BusinessWeek article, “In the next couple of years, we will blow open the cancer market.  That’s the next huge breakthrough.”
And millions can’t wait.

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