A biotechnology firm based in Connecticut has developed a semiconductor that can sequence the human genome in two hours for a cost of $49,000, which is cheaper than competing methods. The industry’s goal is to develop a machine that can sequence a person’s genes for under $1,000, at which point the procedure could become a routine part of the medical practice. Called the Ion Torrent, the new semiconductor was used to identify the two deadly strains of E. coli bacteria that swept through Europe earlier in the year.
What’s the Big Idea?
While the cost of gene sequencing has fallen according to Moore’s law, which explains that the number of transistors placeable on a computer chip doubles every two years, the amount of usable information we gain from the test results remains elusive. “Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, inventor of the new semiconductor, said he agreed that few genes right now yield useful genetic information and that it will be a 10- to 15-year quest to really understand the human genome. For the moment his machine is specialized for analyzing much smaller amounts of information, like the handful of genes highly active in cancer.”