January 19, 2014 – The cost of sequencing DNA is finally at the $1,000 threshold. The system built by Illumina, a San Diego based company, is called the HiSeq X Ten Sequencing System, and is designed to sequence human DNA specifically. It can do this at rates ten times faster than previous systems producing 5 partial sequences per day and 16 complete sequences in a 3-day period. With four labs equipped with HiSeq X Ten sequencers they could produce more DNA sequences than all current systems have produced to date globally. This is a sea change for genomics and it comes with a price. Illumina is selling its sequencers in 10 packs with a starting price at $10 million U.S. The first four lab customers will receive shipment in the next couple of months.
How will the HiSeq X Ten change the science? Large factory-scale sequencing of human population groups is now possible. Scientists will be able to study mutations, random drift and how natural selection generates diversity including creating causal agents for disease with attendant increased risk to specific populations. By implementing DNA sequencing on a national scale governments will have a better understanding of disease risk and be able to improve healthcare delivery.
The promise of a $1,000 cost for sequencing human DNA has been in the works for awhile. Other developers such as Life Technologies have also been chasing the dream of driving the cost of DNA sequencing to the $1,000 level or lower. The Ion Proton sequencer, which is Life Technologies product, is priced at $149,000 U.S. and can sequence an entire human genome in a day. It is not designed for factory-scale sequencing but is indicative of a trend that says genome sequencing like so many other technologies is within reach of becoming commonly available at an affordable price.
Will we see sequencers in every doctor’s office within the decade? Certainly not the HiSeq X Ten, but smaller versions of these machines will become affordable and readily available. Soon when you go for a physical your doctor will offer you the option of mapping your genome. Will you say yes?