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Wednesday, January 1, 2014


(The following is a prediction for the year 2014 in science)

Genome sequencing continues to improve exponentially
Despite the economic crisis, a number of industries continue to show growth. One of these is personal medicine and genome sequencing.* After the Human Genome Project was finished in 2003, the potential for its public use began to be realised. It had taken nearly 15 years and billions of dollars to identify and map all 3.3 billion base pairs in the human genome. However, the methods used to achieve this goal had begun to improve exponentially, at a rate even faster than Moore's Law in computer chips.* From 2008, the cost per genome was plummeting.*By 2014, it was possible to sequence an entire human genome for less than $100.*
The second half of this decade brings even greater advances. One major trend in recent years has been the increasing portability* of machines for analysing genomes. These are now becoming so sophisticated that they can provide results in a matter of seconds, at negligible costs. Handheld genome sequencers have a wide range of practical applications. They can be used by police at crime scenes, for example, to analyse biological evidence without needing to return it to the laboratory, saving time and money. Foreign aid workers in the developing world can identify viruses and verify water quality. Food inspectors can check for harmful pathogens in restaurants. Wildlife biologists can study genes in the field.
But perhaps the most widespread use of genome sequencing is now among the general public, who can utilise it for a mere fraction of what it cost in the previous decade. Just as the Internet seemed to appear out of nowhere in the mid-1990s, personalised genomics is now exploding into the mainstream in the late 2010s. Its popularity stems from the health benefits and medical insights it offers: after the base pairs are sequenced, an individual's genotype can be cross-referenced with a database of published literature to determine the likelihood of trait expression and disease risk later in life. This allows someone to prepare many years in advance, and to seek treatment at a much earlier stage. By the end of this decade, tens of millions of human genomes have been sequenced around the world, as a new era of personalised medicine begins to emerge. At the same time, however, concerns are raised over genetic discrimination and privacy of information.

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