MOST OF YOU ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH A NEW SCIENTIFIC PRIZE that is in the planning stage. On January 27, The Wall Street Journal published a story that disclosed the plans of the X Prize Foundation to award a prize, totaling between $5 million and $20 million, to the team that first decodes the full DNA of 100 or more people in just a few weeks.
If the X Prize Foundation seems familiar to you, it is the same group that awarded the $10 million prize to the team that developed SpaceShipOne, which in October 2004 became the first manned space vehicle to launch from earth, reach space and return safely twice in one week.
What is intriguing about this planned new award for DNA sequencing is that J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is collaborating with the X Prize Foundation. It was Venter who launched the private project to map the human genome in 1998 and developed ways to accelerate gene sequencing. (See TDR, June 15, 1998.)
The goal of this new prize is to encourage development of faster, cheaper gene-sequencing technologies. According to The Wall Street Journal, today’s technology can allow a team to sequence the entire human genome in about six months, at a cost of $20 million. Experts believe this cost may be driven down to $100,000 within a few years.
My fellow readers, can you imagine what this technology might eventually allow us to do? For a reasonable cost, a full human genome could be sequenced in minutes and that clinical information delivered to the patient’s physician. In our life times, we may see complete human DNA profiling done as a STAT test. Boy, wouldn’t that change laboratory medicine the way we know it today? It could happen. After all, in the lifetime of some of our oldest doctors, they have seen the discovery of DNA lead to useful genetic tests and therapies.
Of course, the skeptics among you have good arguments why it may take decades for anything like this to happen. I understand that viewpoint. However, as the industrial age yielded to the information age in recent decades, it seems like the genetic age may supplant the information age at an ever-accelerating pace. Maybe Star Trek’s vision wasn’t so far-fetched…Nurse Chapel, would you please bring the Tricorder to Bones?