Plummeting prices for genetic sequencing open ‘Pandora’s box of ethical concerns’

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Credit: MyGenome

The speed at which the price of genetic sequencing has fallen has been astonishing, from $50,000 a decade ago to roughly $600 today. For a long time, the industry saw the $1,000 genome as the inflection point at which we would enter the genomic age.

That milestone has come and gone, but progress hasn’t stopped. And now Chinese firm BGI says it has created a system that can sequence a full genome for just $100. If the claims hold up, that’s a roughly six times improvement over state-of-the-art technology.

The key to the breakthrough is a significant increase in the size of the chip that is used to analyze genetic data, so twice as many genomes can be processed at once. Their machine also uses a robotic arm to dunk the chip into baths of the chemicals used to carry out the sequencing process, which allows them to be reused multiple times.

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Rade Drmanac, chief scientific officer of Complete Genomics, a division of BGI, told MIT Tech Review that at $100 it could soon be common to sequence the DNA of every child at birth. This could provide unprecedented early-warning for a host of diseases, but would also open up a Pandora’s box of ethical concerns.

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