If you were alive in the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the Human Genome Project. A multi-billion dollar, multi-year, internationally supported expedition to map the entire sequence of the human genome. As epic of a project the HGP was, the progression we have made in DNA sequencing technology since then makes the HGP look like retarded cavemen trying to start their first fire. DNA sequencing has advanced–and is continuing to advance–at unbelievable rates; but surprisingly, it has not poked its nose into mainstream media since the HGP days. While its been a huge buzz in the science community for sometime, its time for everyone to get educated about this, and prepare for the next great era of the human race.
The HGP took 3.8 billion USD and 13 years to complete. Thats the cost of one (1) World Trade Center, or in laymens terms: 19 billion Chicken McNuggets. Modern equipment can sequence a genome in weeks to months with a four to five digit dollar cost. In the near future, we may be seeing devices that can sequence DNA for a few hundred bucks in the time of a day. Companies like Oxford Nanopore claim to be on the verge of producing handheld, USB powered “lab-on-a-chip” devices that have the power to sequence an entire human genome. Oxford Nanopore uses the principle of “threading” single stranded DNA through a nanopore which is hooked up to powerful electronics that can sense the ionic current signatures of each unique DNA nucleotide as it passes through the hole. Using this strategy, a voltage can be applied (DNA is conveniently a negatively charged molecule) and the DNA can be threaded through the hole at incredible speeds–writing out a DNA sequence in the form of electronic signals. The implications of such a technology becoming readily available is absolutely mind-blowing. With DNA sequencing inevitably becoming as simple as going to the doctor’s office for a routine checkup, the world as we see it may face a torrent of new opportunities as well as challenges.
While I have good reason to believe the technology won’t be readily available for several more years (we’re dealing with atomic-scale dimensions and insanely sensitive electronics, or in scientific terms: getting repeatedly fucked in the ass), I think its worth at least thinking about what the world is going to be like once it is. A pessimist might imagine insurance companies requiring you to take a DNA screen to check for markers that indicate a predisposition for certain diseases, just so that they can boost your premiums. There is no doubt that those assholes are going to try to use this technology to fish for more of your money. Unfortunately, this is among a whole host of ethical issues that come with such a powerful technology.
As people, we like to worry about these potential consequences, but at The Geared Life we tend to believe that the progress of the human race is contingent upon such risks. It’s vitally important to be excited for the next fire, the next automobile, the next space shuttle, the next Internet. This is the next big thing. High-speed, cost-effective DNA sequencing is going to open up an unimaginable amount of doors for scientists and practitioners as well as everyday people. Diseases once believed to be a death wish will earn “quick-fix” status. We’ll be able to start a new wave of genetic engineering that can usher in the best possible genetic makeup for our children so that they may be successful; the best genetic makeup for animals so that we may extract the most possible filet mignon per creature. The human race could undergo a hyper-accelerated evolution that can advance our species to a level where the problems we see today can be eliminated with ease. Face this great, upcoming technology with open arms and realize that it may be the next step for us to get #geared.
– Eccentric billionaire