Saturday, May 26, 2007

Future shock!

Some day, my grandchildren will come home from school and tell me how they just sequenced their genome in fourth grade biology class. I will tell them that I can remember when the first bacterial genome became available in 1995, and that it was a big, fat, hairy deal. Sequencing the first genome, Haemophilus influenzae, took the efforts of 40 people nearly a year to accurately compile the 1,830,137 base pairs that comprise its genome. At the time, this was a technical tour de force, as similar projects in Escherichia coli had already been ongoing for several years with no light at the end of the tunnel.

The future is now, ladies and gentlemen.

While at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting last week in Toronto, Canada, I visited the booth of the company 454. These folks have a fabulous new toy that you can buy for yourself for the low, low price of about $500,000. But what a toy! With this toy, you can sequence single molecules of DNA (with conventional sequencing, you need many, many pure copies of your DNA). Their machine isolates your single molecule of DNA inside of a bubble of water suspended in oil. It amplifies this single molecule of DNA, and it sequences it. Here's the cool part. There are 1.6 million wells in the machine, and they can get up to 400,000 of them operating simultaneously (about 3/4 of the 1.6 million wells get bad reads). What does this mean? Well, since you can get about 300 bp of sequence off of a single well, it means that you can sequence a ridiculous amount of DNA in an afternoon. In 8 hours, you can sequence two entire microbial genomes using the work of one person and an $8,000 chip. Two microbial genomes for a little over $8,000 of reagents and a few hours of work!

Never again will a microbiologist have to work with an isolate that hasn't been entirely sequenced. We're also getting very close to the point where having your own genome available for making choices about your own healthcare will be feasible. We're not there yet, but the time is not far away.



ERV said...

I LOVE hearing science stories from older researchers!

"Tell me about when you didnt know what restriction enzymes were, Grandpa!"


ERV said...

DUDE! Our Uni might get one of these!