Two DNA se­quencers a step ahead

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

From Health cover work. Se­quenc­ing the hu­man genome was

done by ‘‘ fac­to­ries’’ of sci­en­tists in the US, says the SOLiD ma­chines, made by the San Europe and Ja­pan, and cost many mil­lions of Fran­cisco-based Ap­plied Biosys­tems, prom­dol­lars — a feat Grim­mond likens to ‘‘ putting ised to ‘‘ change the face of bi­ol­ogy’’.

a man on the moon’’. ‘‘ It has enor­mous pub­lic health im­pli­ca­tions — it will change the way we have The new ma­chines, as well as be­ing per­formed a lot of ba­sic health re­search,’’ enor­mously faster, will also bring this cost pro­fes­sor Wain­wright said. ‘‘ It will change down to some­where be­tween $50,000 and the way we see a lot of in­fec­tious dis­eases, and $100,000. will give us al­most un­thought-of ca­pa­bil­ity to For some­thing sim­pler, such as the genome look at the DNA of dif­fer­ent tu­mours.’’ of a bac­terium, Grim­mond says the cost

The hu­man genome was fi­nally se­quenced would be ‘‘ a cou­ple of thou­sand dol­lars, max in 2005. While an­nounce­ments of suc­cess had — (be­fore) we would have been look­ing at been made as early as 2001, Grim­mond says $500,000 to $1 mil­lion to se­quence th­ese’’. that, in fact, only 75 per cent of the ge­netic The aim of re­searchers is to bring the cost code had been cracked by this point ‘‘ and down much fur­ther — in the case of a hu­man, they were the easy bits’’. to un­der $10,000.

It took two more an­nounce­ments over four The im­pli­ca­tions of this huge fall in cost are years for the full pic­ture to be­come clear. that it opens up the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties of

An­other huge ad­vance the new ma­chines what is af­ford­able. will bring is a vast re­duc­tion in the cost of such ‘‘ We are keen

to

start

get­ting

more in­volved in can­cer re­search,’’ Grim­mond says. ‘‘ We know that can­cer arises due to mu­ta­tions or dam­age to DNA . . . that al­low them to grow in an un­con­trolled fash­ion.

‘‘ We know some of the ma­jor genes re­spon­si­ble for that, but we cer­tainly don’t know all of them. Now, we are able to specif­i­cally look for which genes get dam­aged dur­ing tu­mour pro­gres­sion. We know part of the story, but we don’t know all of the story.’’

An in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tive now be­ing planned will be search­ing for the key mu­ta­tions and DNA dam­age in­volved in 50 dif­fer­ent types of can­cer.

To en­sure re­searchers get a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple, 500 tu­mours from each type of can­cer will be stud­ied.

‘‘ You need those sorts of num­bers, be­cause what tends to hap­pen is that genes tend to do their job in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other genes do­ing a sim­i­lar job,’’ he says.

Pic­ture: Pa­trick Hamil­ton

Fore­front: Sean Grim­mond says hav­ing two DNA se­quencers will lead to bet­ter re­sults and huge sav­ings

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