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Your Genome On eBay: Bidding Starts at $68,000

Posted Aug 27 2009 11:37pm

If you can’t afford $99,000 to have your complete genome scanned and analyzed by Knome, then go to eBay and you may be lucky enough to snap up the service for considerably less:  Bidding starts at just $68,000.  This auction is actually a charity drive.  Knome is donating its services to help “raise awareness of the X PRIZE … a global competition that will award $10 million to the first person or team that can sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days at a cost of no more than $10k per genome.”

Whole genome sequencing is one of the most exciting new technologies in medicine and the team of scientists that work with Knome are as good as it gets.  The problem is that most of us just won’t get very much useful data from a whole genome scan yet.  Daniel MacArthur at Genetic Future points this out very nicely in his recent post.

Knome started out pricing its service at $350,000. Despite reportedly nabbing two clients for that hefty sum, the company slashed the cost to its current $99,000 asking price. Other companies offering similar products have also dropped their prices. In September 23andMe reduced the price of its genome scan from $999 to $399.  23andMe’s test is not as comprehensive as Knome’s, but it’s much more comprehensive than most genealogical tests. The Mountain View-based company also has a partnership with Ancestery.com, which has made genealogists very excited.  Navigenics, which used to offer only a $2,500 service now has a streamlined version for $500. deCODEme offers a complete scan for about $1000, a cancer scan for $225, and a cardiac scan for $195.

There’s lots of progress finding genes for hereditary diseases, and tantalizing evidence about genes for the more common problems like cancer and heart disease.  But it’s by no means a watershed yet, so no matter how good the scan is you can only get limited information from it.  At the very least, repeated scans will be needed to keep current with the science is this field, which is just beginning to crest.

23andMe, Navigenics, and deCODEme’s complete scans all look at only about 500,000 spots on the genome where you are most likely to see useful variations.  Knome’s service is a complete genome scan.  The human genome contains about 3 billion base pairs.

The race to reach the $1000 or less genome is very worthy. I hope that someone buys that Knome genome scan on ebay.  I also hope that, as many are predicting, whole genome scans become available for less than $1000 before the end of 2009.

For many people, especially those with rare genetic diseases that haven’t been mapped to the genome yet or with a family history of a life-threatening condition, this is going to be a revolution. Most of the rest of us will need to wait until genetics catches up and we actually know more about which genes are “good” and “bad” and why.  At that point, I expect whole genome sequencing will be free. Someone will figure out a way to capitalize on all the knowledge it unleashes and to charge people (or their insurers) for the preventative or curative treatments prescribed by the genome scan.

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