April 6, 2012

How relevant will sequencing be to the average person?

There are technologies that are pointless: fireproof matches, waterproof teabags, and non-alcoholic beer. There are technologies that are relevant in a particular field or to certain people. The parachute would be a random example. And then there are technologies that are relevant to everyone, all the time. Consider the transistor and how the world would be different without it: No pocketable radio, no computers smaller than a university basement, and no smartphones.

In which of those categories will DNA sequencing belong in a few years? It is safe to assume that it will not be irrelevant, but the question is whether it will be useful only to specialists in a select number of fields, such as the life sciences, medicine, and forensics, or whether it will be much more pervasive.

I think that it will be rather ubiquitous, and I have four reasons for this.

Number one: Sequencing is becoming increasingly affordable. If the cost of sequencing keeps decreasing at the same rate than it has since 2007, it will cost less than one dollar to sequence a human genome by 2017. This sort of extrapolation may seem naïve, but there is no reason why the cost of sequencing cannot decline by many orders of magnitude still.

Number two: It is likely that sequencing technology will become much easier to use in the future. For example, if Oxford Nanopore's announcements are to be believed, its new sequencing devices require minimal sample preparation. There is no reason why pocketable sequencers that can be used by children cannot be made.

Number three: DNA is a non-fuzzy concept that can easily be grasped. It is simple enough for everyone to understand and to use.

Number four: DNA is central to life, and this makes it likely that there are many applications of sequencing that nobody has thought of yet.

In summary, it seems to me that sequencing is likely to be pervasive in the lives of a lot of people, though maybe not as pervasive as transistors. I am open to arguments against this, but I cannot think of any myself.

That's the end of this Easter post, except for one more thing: I started a Twitter account recently, and plan to tweet a few times a week on topics that may be relevant to readers of this blog. I'll also announce all my new blog posts on Twitter. If you think that this may be interesting to you, please follow me: http://twitter.com/artwuster

1 comment:

  1. With the "digitization" of medicine, it seems like many technologies (sequencing included) will become more mainstream within the next decade. I don't necessarily think sequencing will be the most important, but it will have its place. The real question, then, is will we use these technologies effectively to improve quality of life?