Genome sequencing for <$5000

digital rendering of DNAThe title says it all, really; Californian biotech company Complete Genomics has announced publicly that it has…

… sequenced three human genomes for an average cost of $4,400. The most recently sequenced genome–which happens to be that of genomics pioneer George Church–cost just $1,500 in chemicals, the cheapest published yet. [via FuturePundit]

“So what?” you might be thinking. Well, for a start, cheaper genome sequencing will pay off fast for the medical field, as it’ll give them more data to study; also, lowering the price to “consumer” levels (albeit the sort of consumer who doesn’t flinch at the idea of laying out a few thousand bucks for a bunch of data that they themselves don’t have the training to do anything with) opens up a whole raft of potential applications, both medical and otherwise.

Other experts are downplaying Complete Genomics’ announcement, however, because the “reagent cost” of the sequencing doesn’t tell the full story:

Calculating the cost of sequencing a human genome is a tricky business–price estimates can vary depending on what’s included in the calculation. One common measure is the cost of the chemicals used, and this is what Complete Genomics used. However, this measure doesn’t incorporate the cost of the machines that do the sequencing, the human labor, or the computational effort required to assemble raw sequence information into a whole genome. “What’s important is not just the reagent costs, but also the cost of analyzing the sequence,” says Jeff Schloss, program director for technology development at the National Human Genome Research Center, in Bethesda, MD. “It’s unclear how computational costs for this method compare to some of the others.”

My guess would be that CG doesn’t really care about that, though. It looks like they’re taking a leaf from the Web2.0 playbook by rolling out the service at the lowest cost possible in order to get a good toe-hold in an emerging market: make sequencing available, and then watch your early-adopter users to see what people will actually use it for. That said, the $5,000 sequence isn’t available to the general public just yet, but I doubt it’ll be long before it is… and I doubt CG will be the only player on the field by that point, either. [image by ynse]