27 January 2006

Personal Genomics...but Not Yet

A new X-prize, this time for exploring inner rather than outer space, has been announced. To win the prize money, all you have to do is sequence the DNA of a 100 or more people in a few weeks. That may sound a little vague, but it is many orders of magnitude faster than we can do it now (and remember, the first human genome took about 15 years and three billion dollars).

Why bother? Well, it will open up the world of personal genomics: where the particular details of your genome - not the human genome in general - will be used to aid diagnosis and help doctors make decisions about treatment.

The X-prize announcement is really tantamount to recognising that all those breathless predictions of imminent personal genomes, made by some at the time of the Human Genome Project, were rather optimistic.

I have to say that I, for one, am not too sad. Much as I'd like to Google my genome, being able to do so will also raise considerable ethical dilemmas, as I discussed in my book Digital Code of Life.

As St. Augustine nearly said: "Give me genotypability - but not yet...."

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