243 full human genomes sequenced per second

By Razib Khan | September 24, 2011 12:55 am

MIT Technology Review has one of those articles about the exponential growth rate in the number of people who have been fully sequenced. There’s nothing too exceptional in the piece. You do have to be careful about 10 year projections, especially if they’re exponential. But this part caught my eye: ” At this exponential pace, by 2020 it may be feasible—mathematically, at least—to decode the DNA of every member of humanity in a single 12-month stretch.

What does that mean? Taking the U.N. estimate for the world’s population in 2020, and I get the following numbers:

– 874,087 genomes per hour
– 14,568 genomes per minute
– 243 genomes per second

Of course much of the sequencing would be done concurrently, so it wouldn’t be a constant rate of production. But still this would be awesome. I think being much more conservative there’ll be at least hundreds of thousands of people who are fully sequenced, if not millions. I don’t know if this is valid personally, but there’s a paper on data compression which claims it might be feasible to reduce the size of the raw sequence output to ~4 MB. That might be helpful, since even at that size you’d still have 30 million terabytes of information to store (I assume that any given genome will be replicated thousands of times in various data centers).

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Comments (11)

  1. gaffa

    At a certain point the actual sequencing machines will no longer be the bottleneck. Some people already argue that data analysis is beginning to take over that role, and as we progress even further we also have to consider the sample preparation stage. You’d need to employ a whole lot of lab technicians to prep 243 samples per second, and lab technician salary is not decreasing at an exponential rate.

  2. Nameless

    “there’s a paper on data compression which claims it might be feasible to reduce the size of the raw sequence output to ~4 MB”

    The paper seems valid on the face of it, though it would be more accurate to say that they are claiming to encode the set of differences between an arbitrary genome and the human reference genome in 4 MB of data. Direct compression would take closer to 500 MB.

  3. Polynices

    Anyone else reading who once spent time in the lab pouring gels and handling pipettes and analyzing a (relatively short) DNA sequence manually? The progress of this technology really boggles my mind. It was just getting started during my brief lab monkey experience but wow.

    I quite agree that this will be awesome. Can’t wait to read all the interesting results Razib can share with and explain to us.

  4. Ezequiel Martin Camara

    As the genomes are highy correlated, there should be ways of compressing them together efficiently, so that compressing 1000 of them does not take 1000 times the space of compressing one of them.

  5. jb

    Ten years might be a tad too soon, but I see nothing implausible about everybody in the world — or at least everybody in the developed world — eventually having their genome done. The big question is whether there turns out to be any significant medical benefit. If there is, it will create an industry, and sequencers could become as common as X-ray machines.

  6. Medical benefit? There will be those who find social benefits…

    “”Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”

  7. juan

    Wonder how the market will play out. Will every baby get their genome sequenced at birth in the 2020s? US has about 4 million births per year. EU has about 5 million. That’s a good sized market.

    I imagine a full genome sequence will be part of mandatory maternity care insurance.

    I also think that, once genome sequencing becomes ubiquitous for the upper class (at these rates, within a decade), there will be strong political pressure to make it available, perhaps at a subsidized rate, for the masses. We’ll see lots of articles about the Genome Divide just like we saw in the 90s about the Digital Divide.

    I can easily see a small, rich, technocratic country like Singapore implementing some universal genome sequencing project in 2020. The first country to have all citizens sequenced is the kind of arbitrary achievement that gets good PR for a country as being futuristic and progress-oriented.

  8. You’d need to employ a whole lot of lab technicians to prep 243 samples per second, and lab technician salary is not decreasing at an exponential rate.

    well, this is going to be done in lots of labs around the world. 243 per second per god knows how many labs. but, i wonder how far robots can go in this area.

  9. Nameless

    “I imagine a full genome sequence will be part of mandatory maternity care insurance.”

    And I imagine that there will be a massive underground industry that involves extracting DNA from 10 week old fetuses and sequencing it. It will be officially banned in every developed country, but it will be practiced anyway. Rich people will be able to combine sequencing with IVF by creating 100 embryos and picking the one with the most desirable genetic code.

    I wonder how much space is needed to encode just the _functional_ features of the genome, excluding silent mutations, irrelevant mutations in non-coding RNA, etc, and accounting for correlations between SNPs. Could be as little as 10-20 KB.

    Can you point me to a site where I can find multiple fully sequenced human genomes? I’m familiar with UCSC Genome Browser web site, but I couldn’t find that kind of information there.

  10. Slyfox666

    This achievement, if followed by similar successes and cost reductions, will:
    1. Immediately allow sequencing of all human (plant and animal) gene sequences.
    2. Allow screening of fetuses for the presence of known genetic diseases (for better or worse[eugenics]).
    3. Let scientists discover which genes determine longevity (I believe about 64 have been identified using our current primative techniques. (Think immortality and its corollary: mandatory population control.)
    4. Open a pandora’s box of designer babies (the rich already do this through [imprecise]cultural and educational selectivity).
    5. Human (and other) genetic engineering (think “Blade Runner”).
    6. Unforseen consequences.

  11. #4

    Maybe just choose som individual with very average genes, and then for each other person, one can simply hav his data with notes about wher they differ. One cud do it further by choosing somone one is alredy close related to. I can see how this works for familys and perhaps country’s with very homogenous populations. But then again, the raw size may not be a problem in the end with increases in data storage products.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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