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Special report: Personal genomics

GENOME sequencing is about to get personal. For more than a decade, thousands of researchers around the world have spent about $3 billion to complete the human genome project. It's not finished yet, but even when it is, we still will not have the genome of a single person: the official consensus sequence is based on DNA from 10 different people.

This is not good enough for some researchers. Their goal is to get very personal indeed. "We are proposing to give people their own sequence if they'll have it," says genomicist George Church of Harvard Medical School.

The allure of knowing your own genome is obvious. It holds many of the secrets of your life- and death. It could, for example, reveal if you are likely to develop heart disease or Alzheimer's. Church and other experts think this is no longer a pipe dream. They believe that in less than a decade, people will be able to get their own genomes sequenced for about the price of a laptop or a flat-screen TV. When that happens, the thinking goes, a whole new industry of personal genomics will take off.

The idea is gathering momentum thanks to Craig Venter, the eccentric scientist-entrepreneur who raced government-funded labs to decode the human genome. Earlier this year, he was ousted from Celera, the genome company he founded. But he has bounced back with a plan for a massive non-profit genome sequencing centre in Maryland. And in a widely publicised bid to attract funding for the centre, Venter says he wants philanthropists to donate a few hundred thousand dollars each. In exchange, he'll hand them the sequence of their genomes' coding regions- the 2 per cent or so that encompasses all known genes.

For the record, Venter tells New Scientist he is not "taking orders" from people or setting this up as a commercial service, as some reports have stated. Rather, his goal is to collect sequence information from lots of people, to learn more about the link between genetic variation and disease.


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Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-207-331-2751
New Scientist
12-Oct-2002


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