Ever since the first human genome was sequenced in 2003, there has been talk of a revolution in genomic science. Through unlocking the language of our DNA, we should be able to better understand how biological processes work, rapidly identify biological organisms, analyze the interactions between our cells and our environment, and much more. The possibilities truly seem infinite. Currently, the only way an average person can have his genome tested is by purchasing a DNA kit and sending the collected samples to a lab. However, the process is about to become much more efficient. Rapid DNA Analysis will fundamentally improve the DNA kit, providing quick and complete profiling of our genetic code, and place unprecedented power in our hands.
Currently, genome analysis is available to people in a few limited forms such as paternity testing and ancestry tests. The type of analysis used (PCR) compares small sections of a sample DNA with similar sections in separate samples, and it requires a waiting period of about two weeks for results. Results show up as an affirmative or negative answer (in the case of paternity tests) or as a set of statistical probabilities (in the case of ancestry tests). The limited uses of these tests and the amount of time and money involved means that only a very small subset of the population has ever sequenced their own DNA.
The introduction of faster and cheaper DNA kits is about to change that. Ever since the Human Genome Project succeeded in sequencing its first complete code, the price of sequencing has been rapidly dropping. The cost of analyzing one base pair is now millions of times cheaper than a few decades ago, and the total DNA that is being sequenced worldwide is estimated to be doubling or tripling every year. With the fall in price, companies are starting to produce kits destined for the actual consumer – this removes the need for a laboratory and allows multiple gene analyzes for the same price. What's more, results can be obtained in 60 to 90 minutes, and this waiting period should fall too.
So what can the average person do with a DNA kit of his or her own? Imagine running into an unknown plant on a hiking trail and being able to genetically identify its species almost immediately. Furthermore, imagine having your genetic code anonymously placed on the Internet, where people conducting groundbreaking research on new drugs can tell you if you are a good fit for certain types of drug therapies. As science uncovers how various genes affect our health and behavior, further uses of having our complete code sequenced will emerge. Just having a large database of genomes in the first place will greatly increase our knowledge of ourselves.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. A future of “DNA awareness” means the possibility of abuse of that information by governments, insurance companies, or malevolent bio-hackers. There will inevitably be national debts (which have already been taking place in the science community) about the need for privacy and acceptable uses of genetic information. Targeted drug therapies should mean a drop in health care costs, but should that mean that insurance companies can adjust your rates according to your genes? And what happens when individual “hobbyists” find ways to start tinkering with their genetics or the genetics of organisms in the environment? Ultra-fast DNA kits are approaching, and, as always, the controversies that carry will be ironed out as the future unfolds.