How can I get a digital copy of my own DNA?
March 24, 2008 12:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I get a digital copy of my own DNA? How much will it cost? Is the cost likely to become reasonable any time soon?

This is allegedly a copy of the human genome, but not of any specific individual as far as I can tell. However, Craig Venter has had his complete DNA sequenced, so I'm wondering how feasible it is to get this done for myself.

I am anticipating that it would currently cost millions of dollars. But is there any kind of biosciencey Moore's law in operation that might eventually bring this cost down to, say, under $1000?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
23andme will do it, sort of.
posted by phrontist at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2008

My guess is that it will continue to get cheaper and cheaper. Venter's copy cost far less then the entire Human Genome Project, in fact Venter has actually said things like that.
posted by delmoi at 12:54 PM on March 24, 2008

(I heard about it through WIRED, which gives a good rundown in addition to the corporate site.)
posted by phrontist at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2008

You can get some art made from your DNA. You probably don't get a full scientific sequence though.
posted by FreezBoy at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2008

You can get a dna portrait for around $400 to $1,200. According to their FAQ, there is an option in the ordering process to include a digital copy of your DNA sequence.
posted by jmnugent at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2008

damn, Freezboy beat me..... I was to distracted by their awesome website :P
posted by jmnugent at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2008

If you're buying any sequencing technology that isn't a million dollars, you're not buying your full DNA. Companies like 23andme are sequencing and reporting on known clusters, and can estimate aspects of heredity, but that's all that's affordable right now.

When I recently spoke to someone who knew about this stuff, she didn't think a complete genome package was just around the corner at all. There's still an immense amount of human labor involved.
posted by nev at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2008

decodeME will do it as well
posted by zeoslap at 1:27 PM on March 24, 2008

Practically speaking though, what's the use of sequencing data we don't know anything about? I think for most people companies like 23andme or decodeME offer what most people are after - a medical heads up about their genotype related to the present scientific understanding.
posted by phrontist at 1:31 PM on March 24, 2008

I think you could buy a system from Helicos Biosciences that would do what you want. I guess. You can find their prices on their website.
posted by thomas144 at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2008

The current going rate seems to be about $2 million, which is what it cost for 454 Life Sciences to sequence James Watson's genome.
There is indeed a Moore's Law-type effect going on, and new technologies from companies like 454 and Illumina are bringing down the cost of this kind of project. Sequencing a human genome still takes many months of somebody's time, so you won't get it for $1000, or even $100 000, any time soon. Maybe ask again in 5 years?
23andMe and DecodeMe do NOT give you your whole genome sequence, so those answers above are wrong.
posted by nowonmai at 1:50 PM on March 24, 2008

OK, I am behind the times. $2 million was last year's price. Now the going rate is around $350 000.

Knome is one of the new companies that is offering the kind of service you want, initially for that price. Here is a recent NY Times article on the subject. See also the Archon X prize for Genomics, an initiative to bring the cost down to $1000.
Nature magazine is asking geneticists what they think of it all.
posted by nowonmai at 2:28 PM on March 24, 2008

I think this article summarizes the state of things pretty well. As nowonmai points out, 23andMe and DecodeMe do not give you any actual sequence of your genome. Rather, they check the sequence of a million or so particular bases ('letters,' if you will) that they believe have some significance for the average consumer.
posted by greatgefilte at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2008

Right, there is no sequencing going on at 23andMe and DecodeMe. All they're doing is tossing a collection of markers on your DNA and observing what sticks. (Relatively) old technology and cheap to do. The price mostly comes from the interpretation and reports based on the results.

In any case, without any interpretation, what you'd be buying from any true sequencing company is a text file with a seemingly random sequence of the letters A, C, T, and G stretching over 2.8 million characters long. Not particularly sexy.
posted by junesix at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2008

I am not a genetics researcher myself, but in my biochem/cell biology grad class a couple months ago, we were quoted that it currently costs about 0.03 cents/base pair (USD) to sequence a genome from scratch using 454 Pyrosequencing, and it costs about 0.001 cent/base pair using a resequencing array (comparing your DNA to a known sequence and looking for variations). At around 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, this corresponds to an approximate cost of about $900,000 to be sequenced from scratch or $30,000 for resequencing. Of course, these are how much it costs a science research lab to sequence a genome, not how much a commercial operation would charge you, and I don't think those prices include paying the technician to actually run the experiment or the cost of the machine itself. Perhaps if you had a friend working in a biomedical research lab and he/she owed you a favor...
posted by wondercow at 7:53 AM on March 25, 2008

Oh yeah, you asked about a sort of Moore's law. The answer is yes, there is exact that.

See: the graph in this Google Books link.

And others are correct that the magic number tossed around by the scientific community is a goal of a $1000 genome.
posted by wondercow at 7:57 AM on March 25, 2008

Just an aside:

Please note that even current sequencing techniques have big difficulty mapping repeating parts of your genome; even when a genome is "sequenced," there are thousands upon thousands of bases that are not read. We don't think they contain much genetic data, but some can have important effects.

This point is more than likely moot, anyway, since obtaining a genome of any individual is still relatively useless in the current age--we don't know what most of those genes code for specifically. And if you're going to throw several grand at a novelty item, then my words will not faze you.
posted by BenzeneChile at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2008

Not to belabor what was an aside, but technically speaking, the repetitive elements of our genomic DNA would be sequenced. The way these companies sequence DNA is to shear it into millions of tiny pieces and sequence all the pieces. They would actually sequence the total DNA several times over. Then software would assemble all the little pieces together.

But because some regions are so repetitive, they could not be assembled into a linear sequence like the non-repetitive regions. This is already a problem with the published genomes. They are called complete, but these repetitive regions are not assembled onto any chromosomes. When you do a search comparing small pieces of sequence to a database, you typically search the NR, non-repetitive, database.

These regions very well could prove to be important in regards to chromosome segregation issues that are already known to cause diseases. It is possible that variations currently exist between people in these repetitive regions which correlate to different incidences of these abnormalities.
posted by joemax at 3:09 PM on March 25, 2008

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