DNA Quote: Dr. George Church

DNA Quote: Dr. George Church

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 2, 2007 in DNA Quotes and Excerpts

george churchDr. George Church, professor of genetics, Harvard University and founder of the Personal Genome Project, in the October 15, 2007 issue of Newsweek International:

You said last year that you want to get the cost of sequencing a genome down to $1,000 by 2008. Is that still possible?

It’s essentially there. It’s like with computers—there was a point where a computer came down to an affordable range, say $1,000 or $2,000. [In genetics], the $1,000 will get you 1 percent of your genome this year, but that 1 percent contains 90 percent of the information. As time goes by, it’ll get exponentially better, the same way your computer gets exponentially better, at the same price. What benefits will that bring?

If you have cancer predisposition, you can get early diagnosis. You can get a mastectomy so you remove the tissue that’s likely to cause trouble. For stomach cancer, for colon cancer, there are various things that people do in advance. Or, you could [find out you] have a bad drug reaction, [and] you could just never take that class of drugs or food.

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Comment by ramunas Subscribed to comments via email

If I wish to have sequenced only exons of my coding genes (exome) for 1K$ price, how that be technically possible?? With sequencing-by-separation (e.g. Sanger) approach that is possible now, but for a much bigger price.

Comment by NA Subscribed to comments via email

I doubt we will be able to sequence a genome for only 1,000 dollars for a while yet. The sooner the better though.


Geez, you guys are such pessimists! I’m sure George and the companies he advises have technologies under development that will blow our genomic socks off.


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Comment by Jack Subscribed to comments via email

Ramunas (and others) – a few groups have developed methods to amplify a large set of specific sequences in one large multiplex reaction. One can do this for, say, all exons, and then use cheap next-generation sequencing methods (rather than Sanger) to determine the sequences in that amplified set – i.e. sequence just the “exome”. This is currently feasible for ~$1k.

If you are interested in the technical side (and have access), here is a reference for the Church group’s version of the technology:

Porreca GJ et al. Multiplex amplification of large sets of human exons. Nat Methods. 2007 Nov;4(11):931-6.

A new generation of technologies is poised to reduce DNA sequencing costs by several orders of magnitude. But our ability to fully leverage the power of these technologies is crippled by the absence of suitable ‘front-end’ methods for isolating complex subsets of a mammalian genome at a scale that matches the throughput at which these platforms will routinely operate. We show that targeting oligonucleotides released from programmable microarrays can be used to capture and amplify approximately 10,000 human exons in a single multiplex reaction. Additionally, we show integration of this protocol with ultra-high-throughput sequencing for targeted variation discovery. Although the multiplex capture reaction is highly specific, we found that nonuniform capture is a key issue that will need to be resolved by additional optimization. We anticipate that highly multiplexed methods for targeted amplification will enable the comprehensive resequencing of human exons at a fraction of the cost of whole-genome resequencing.

Comment by ECO Subscribed to comments via email


I’m just getting into detailed research about these enrichment technologies and it seems that direct capture on arrays is having much more success than that technique from the Church lab (the molecular inversion probe study that you referenced).

In that same Nat Methods issue there are two other studies that seemed to have much greater success with what seems like a much simpler protocol.

I’ve attempted a preliminary analysis on my site:

Comment by Dr. Val Subscribed to comments via email

This is exciting and scary at the same time. I read the disclaimer in Dr. Church’s research subject recruitment document (does this disturb anyone else?):

Volunteers should be aware of the ways in which knowledge of their genome and phenotype might be used against them. For example, in principle, anyone with sufficient knowledge could take a volunteer’s genome and/or open medical records and use them to (1) infer paternity or other features of the volunteer’s genealogy, (2) claim statistical evidence that could affect employment or insurance for the volunteer, (3) claim relatedness of the volunteer to infamous villains, (4) make synthetic DNA corresponding to the volunteer and plant it at a crime scene, (5) revelation of disease lacking a current cure.

Hi Val, Does that mean you won’t be volunteering your DNA for the Personal Genome Project anytime soon? ;) To be honest, a lot of this can happen now through illicit analysis of “discarded” DNA. But does it and will it? Very low probability until handheld DNA tech devices are available at low cost to everyone, including insurance companies. A lot to think about and to prepare for.

Comment by Dr. Val Subscribed to comments via email

He he… Um, I think the part about people planting my DNA at crime scenes was a little scary. As a Jones, I’ve already had my identity stolen once. I can only imagine what a pain it would be to have my DNA stolen. And then there’s the part about finding out that I may be related to an infamous villain. That would be awkward, wouldn’t it? :)

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Val, I was under the impression YOU were the infamous villain in the family?!

Comment by Dr. Val Subscribed to comments via email

Well, now everyone can have a shot at villainy with the crime scene DNA plants! I’m still working on clearing up my records from the identity theft – somehow they managed to mess up my credit report so that it says I’m married to an Emad Muhammad and that I work at an obscure hospital in upstate New York. Of course, it’s been 5 years since I’ve tried to correct this… maybe I should give up and start calling my hubby Emad? Gosh, I hope the DNA data isn’t as easy to bungle. It’s those real villains who ruin everything for the rest of us! :)


Holy cow. You were serious about the identity theft! Sadly, anything and everything, including DNA, can end up being totally FUBAR. I do think you oughta check to make sure your hubby doesn’t have a secret Emad past. hehee

Comment by ramunas Subscribed to comments via email

Thank you Jack for this reference – well, it’s really seems possible… Only some optimization need to be done. When it came to a clinic, a dramatic price reduction should come. But I think the cost of interpretation should increase (as a service), at least in the beginning.


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