Genomics 2.0: Ten Years After the Bubble, it’s Getting Really Interesting Again

10/17/11Follow @xconomy

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on irrational Wall Street exuberance. Patients saw almost zero benefit.

A lot of the same dangers remain if people take a short-term view of what’s happening now. But over the past decade, companies like Illumina, Life Technologies, Complete Genomics, and PacBio have made progress on speed and output with sequencing instruments that moved faster than Moore’s Law. The $1,000 genome is only a couple years away, most industry observers agree, and it will probably even go as low as $100 per genome at some point. This trend is creating some very interesting challenges for computing, for medicine, and society—all things we’ll talk about at next Monday’s Xconomy conference in San Francisco.

What people need to remember is that just because scientists can crank out all this data, and wax eloquent in the press, miracle cures aren’t coming around the corner anytime soon. Yes, all their grant applications and media quotes will play up the impact for human health. But big hurdles remain. All this genomic data needs to be efficiently stored, analyzed, visualized, and placed in context. Putting the data in context means comparing genomes from one person to the next to see why one person is healthy, and why one is diseased. Even that kind of data might not provide very much insight without a good family medical history, or electronic medical records from a person’s whole life.

While this past decade was about generating DNA sequence data, the next will be about interpreting it. This is not going to be easy since there’s so much at work in the interplay between genes and environment in conditions like obesity. Like with any form of basic science, a lot of it will lead down dead ends. Even when the best discoveries are made, it will take decades for genomic data to bear fruit with new treatments. And there will be really thorny ethical debates that society will have to confront sooner or later.

Personally, I can’t imagine a better time to be following what’s going on in genomics. Tens of thousands of people are there right now on the tip of a genomic iceberg, and hundreds of thousands are sure to get there soon. Now is when it’s getting really interesting.

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