Is DNA Mapping in Your Entrepreneurial DNA?

As the price for a complete gene map approaches $1,000, the chance increases for companies to enter on the genome mapping industry.

Harvard geneticist George Church, 54, is co-founder of the Human Genome Project and the non-public Genome Project. A lot more than anyone in his field, he’s helped start DNA mapping technology to the masses. Although most DNA startups, including some he has advised, often concentrate on less costly "genotyping" that may test for a restricted number of known traits, Church is a proponent of earning blueprints of entire gene sets offered by affordable prices. Until recently, that appeared like a fantasy. Only a small number of people on earth have had almost all their genes mapped. It has been a six- and seven-figure proposition. But as Church highlights here, it’s needs to happen, and it may be a boon for biotech. Given the economy, how will each one of these DNA biotech companies fare?

George Church: Are going to fire sales for awhile until they stabilize. But just how many fields of technology are undergoing that sort of exponential change? Almost none. It’s as with computers: People never considered the web as a use if they first arrived. Eventually people totally tuned in. With genotyping we would be blind to the killer app. It isn’t just medical uses, it’s ancestry, it’s applications to help with making bio-fuels, and it’s really applications to make lifestyle and dating decisions. DNA technology will probably be as diverse as computers are today.

Is genotyping experiencing the seemingly growing narcissism industry which includes from luxury brands to plastic surgery?

Church: Narcissistic is a loaded term. We’re worried about ourselves and our families–we worry about the roads inside our neighborhood as opposed to the roads in all of those other world, yes. But I believe people ought to be interested from a scientific standpoint. Moonwalks must not be as interesting as knowing about your own genes. It isn’t an enormous leap of faith to believe the amount of excitement we’d about space exploration ought to be on steroids in terms of people’s own DNA. It’s only a matter of bringing the price tag on testing down.

How will crowdsourcing help DNA knowledge evolve?

Church: Among the things that can help expand the info is having a gathering place, a watering hole to see what standards are set and what folks are doing. We started showing off all of the technology in a single place. We’re getting some really amazing data sets. We’re trying to demystify each one of these things. You want to help people share data. You may want to tell people about how exactly your kids will have blue eyes and become a marathon runner. It is the only place where folks are putting trait data and gene data in the general public domain. That can be done a crowdsourcing and wiki way to check out things.

Are genotyping firms crossing the line into medical diagnosis?

Church: I believe patients mostly know very well what they’re getting. In order long as there is no hyperbole, I believe that’s fine. I’ve encouraged these firms to accomplish ancestry tests also to educate customers on non-medical traits. Many people are interested in that at this time.

May be the expansion of DNA knowledge changing just how we look at race?

Church: We’re on a trend line where race is now less of a very important concept. Now that it is a comparatively poor predictor. Your skin layer color doesn’t really predict your blood circulation pressure. Everyone is of mixed ancestry at this time. The ‘new race’ is your full genotype rather than this vague relationship between pores and skin and medical traits. Someday we’ll have a complete pedigree of the complete population. And everybody will get in touch to everybody on an enormous family tree, like Google maps.

Will drug companies make use of the new knowledge base?

Church: Initially these were scared because they thought this may make the marketplace smaller. It had been a bugaboo. Others will see that just obtaining a drug approved will be easier when you can, for instance, exclude that small part of society which has a detrimental reaction.

Will insurance firms cover genotyping? What’s in it for them?

Church: Insurance firms which have some vision covers it. But insurance firms aren’t well-known for trying to reinvent themselves. The results is leaner costs.

How close are we to the $1,000 gene map?

Church: Among my companies, Complete Genomics in California, has announced that they can have a $5,000 genome in the next quarter of 2009. I they think they’re pretty near it now. That is clearly a price, not really a cost. The price for materials is approximately $1,000. We’re really not that a long way away. We’ve been seeing a decrease in price by one factor of 10 every a decade. If we continue that pace, it may be $500 in a year. I’m not predicting that, but that is where the curves ‘re going.

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