Once home genetic engineering kits become standard can we expect home brew X-Men? BBC News‘ Karen Weintraub reports on some experiments at Harvard University that may signal the beginning of DIY genetic engineering:
You have to wonder what’s going on in the DNA of Harvard genetics professor George Church.
What extra bit of code does he have that the rest of us don’t? If genes tell the story of a person’s life, then some altered sequence of ‘A’s, ‘C’s, ‘G’s and ‘T’s must be at play, because his brain works like almost no one else’s.
About 30 years ago, Prof Church was one of a handful of people who dreamed up the idea of sequencing the entire human genome – every letter in the code that separates us from fruit flies as well as our parents. His lab was the first to come up with a machine to break that code, and he’s been working to improve it ever since.
Once the first genome was sequenced, he pushed the idea that it wasn’t enough to have one sequence, we needed everyone’s. When people pointed to the nearly $3bn price tag for that first one, he built another machine.
Now, the cost is down to below $5,000 per genome, and Prof Church says we’re quickly heading toward another 10- or 20-fold decrease in price – to roughly the cost of a blood test.
Genes: read, write, edit
To Prof Church, routine whole-genome sequencing will herald the beginning of a new era as transformative and full of possibilities as the Internet Age. But this is not just about insurance companies wanting to have every customer’s entire genome in their files.
For Prof Church sees this only as a beginning of the project, rather than the culmination of three decades of work.
He’s pointing to at a bigger goal: Now that reading DNA code is almost simple, he wants to write and edit it, too.
He envisions a day when a device implanted in your body will be able to identify the first mutations of a potential tumour, or the genes of an invading bacteria. You’ll be able to pop an antibiotic targeted at the invader, or a cancer pill aimed at those few renegade cells…
[continues at BBC News]