What once took 13 years and $2.7 billion can now be done in hours on a $1,400 mobile device
The rate of technological advancement in the sequencing of human DNA is enormous and raising complex social and ethical questions about how far it should go, says Mohawk College Biotechnology Professor Dr. Ethan Paschos.
Mapping the human genome can be done now in hours on a device the size of a cellphone and for less than $1,400 CAN. In 2001, the first time DNA was sequenced in its entirety, it had taken 13 years and cost $2.7 billion.
“The technology also raises the potential for a future where diseases can be treated before they appear and even where the onset of aging can be ‘turned off.‘”
“Scientifically, it’s very impressive. DNA contains all the information of a human, their height, the colour of their skin, hair and eyes, how they will age, the diseases they will develop as they grow older. It’s all encoded in DNA,” said Dr. Paschos.
The sequencing, matched with advanced computing power and big-data analytics, is producing powerful applications in health care, pharmaceutical development, agriculture, environmental science, and law enforcement.
Dr. Paschos says at some point it will be just standard procedure to go to a doctor to get genomes analyzed. But science could also lead to testing babies at birth to determine their risk of developing a whole range of diseases. But who will have access to the data and for what purpose?
“There has been a remarkable pace of technological advancement but now we have to think about how far we want to go.”
The technology also raises the potential for a future where diseases can be treated before they appear and even where the onset of aging can be “turned off.”
Mohawk recently launched a fourth-semester bioinformatics course in the biotechnology program, in which students explore the science of sequencing and the interpretation of data.
Dr. Paschos and his team are researching the use of bacteria to remediate contaminated soil and sequencing the DNA of microbes to better understand how they do that.