Two DNA sequencers a step ahead
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
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.
Forefront: Sean Grimmond says having two DNA sequencers will lead to better results and huge savings