Bats are pretty impressive critters. They are notorious for carrying viruses like Ebola and SARS, but somehow avoid getting these diseases themselves. They are the only mammal that can fly, and they live far longer than other mammals their size. What’s their secret? Researchers in Australia sequenced two different bat genomes and found that these unique bat characteristics are not only genetically linked, but may help in the treatment of human diseases.
The Clinic for Special Children is “probably the only medical centre today with both a hitching post and an Ion Torrent DNA sequencer,” writes Trisha Gura in a Nature profile of the clinic. In the heart of Amish and Mennonite territory in Pennsylvania, it serves a population known best for technologies like the horse and buggy. Yet this might just be the frontier for personalized genomic medicine.
Genomic medicine promises, among other things, to diagnosis rare diseases by looking at an individual person’s DNA mutations. Genome sequencing was used to diagnose a boy’s mysterious illness for the first time in 2010. However the long process of his diagnosis, as highlighted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage, also proves how difficult genomic medicine is: Compare the genomes of any two people and you’ll find tens of thousands of differences. “We’ve talked about the thousand-dollar genome and the million-dollar interpretation,” says genomicist Eric Topol, to Nature. “The challenging bottleneck is the process of trying to nail down which DNA variation is the root cause.”
Insight into long life is one of the new prize’s goals.
In 2006, the Genomics X Prize competition was announced: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 10 days for $10,000 apiece, to be kicked off in 2013. The idea was to spur innovation in technology by asking the (currently) impossible, the hallmark of the X Prize Foundation.
But while sequencing has gotten cheap, it hasn’t gotten all that much faster in the last five years, and none of the eight teams who signed up have ever gotten to the point where such a short time span could be feasible. So, Archon and Medco, the two companies funding the competition, have revamped the requirements. This week they’ve announced the new, improved Genomics X prize: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 30 days—but for $1,000 apiece. (Currently, getting your genome sequenced commercially runs about $5000 at the cheapest.) The new version of the competition, which will kick off on January 3, 2013, also has clearer standards for judging: the genomes have to be 98 percent complete and have no more than one error per million nucleotides.