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Prototype genome-sequencing chips  (Source: Imperial College London)
Technology could be available as soon as 2020

Imperial College London researchers have developed and patented an early prototype technology that could sequence a human genome in a matter of minutes. 

All authors and researchers who contributed to the study are from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London, and include Dr. Joshua Edel, Dr. Emanuele Instuli, Aleksander Ivanov, and Dr. Tim Albrecht. Together, they believe they have created a DNA sequencing technology that is faster and cheaper than any previous procedure used for genome sequencing. 

Up until now, a human genome could only be sequenced through a difficult and time-consuming process that involves breaking the genome into pieces. Using nanopores, which are small holes in an electrically insulating membrane, has been idealized as the next big advance in DNA technology that could speed up the process of sequencing, but there were no available nanopore designs that were feasible or demonstrated until now.

"Compared with current technology, this device could lead to much cheaper sequencing," said Edel. "Just a few dollars, compared with $1 million to sequence an entire genome in 2007. We haven't tried it on a whole genome yet, but our initial experiments suggest that you could theoretically do a complete scan of the 3,165 million bases in the human genome within minutes, providing huge benefits for medical tests, or DNA profiles for police and security work. It should be significantly faster and more reliable, and would be easy to scale up to create a device with the capacity to read up to 10 million bases per second, versus the typical 10 bases per second you get with the present day single molecule real-time techniques."

Edel and his colleagues believe that scientists could eventually utilize a single lab procedure to sequence an entire genome using this new technology. To do this, the Imperial College London researchers propelled a DNA strand at very high speeds through a nanopore, which was a 50 nanometre hole, using an electrical charge. The nanopore was cut into a silicon chip, and as the DNA strand passes through the back of the chip, a "tunneling electrode junction" reads its coding sequence (bases A, C, T or G). The tunneling electrode junction is a 2 nanometre gap located between two wires that uses an electrical current to "interact" with electrical signals from the individual base codes. From there, a computer distinguishes the different signals from the different base codes to build the genome sequence.

"Getting the DNA strand through the nanopore is a bit like sucking up spaghetti," said Instuli. "Until now it has been difficult to precisely align the junction and the nanopore. Furthermore, engineering the electrode wires with such dimensions approaches the atomic scale and is effectively at the limit of existing instrumentation. However, in this experiment we were able to make two tiny platinum wires into an electrode junction with a gap sufficiently small to allow electron current to flow between them."

Tunneling electrode junction technology could potentially allow everyday people to utilize the device, which could reveal DNA-related secrets such as susceptibility to cancer or Alzheimer's disease. As stated before, this type of research could be beneficial to those in police and security-related professions as well. But researchers note that this will not be available for at least another 10 years. 

According to Albrecht, the next move is to differentiate between unique DNA samples and eventually between individual bases within a DNA strand. 

This study was published in Nano Letters.


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One step closer to Gattica!
By trajan on 12/21/2010 10:31:15 AM , Rating: 2
Soon --err, in 2020 -- we'll be comparing DNA profiles before going on dates with people.




RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Tuor on 12/21/2010 11:14:06 AM , Rating: 2
That was my thought, too: Gattica, here we come.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By MozeeToby on 12/21/2010 11:41:07 AM , Rating: 2
You know, I never understood Gattica. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of things about the society described in Gattica that are very, very wrong but what the main character does is just as ethically questionable in my opinion.

For those who haven't seen it, the main plot line involves a man who, essentially, fails the physical fitness part of his job interview, for a job that involves a year spent away from medical assistance on a presumably multi-billion dollar mission. Would you argue that NASA should send people on year long missions if there was a 50/50 chance that they would have a heart attack over that one year time span?

Guess what, airline pilots have to get annual physicals and if they have a heart condition or a mental condition that endangers the plane they aren't allowed to fly. Until very recently you couldn't even get a private pilot's license if you had diabetes, despite the fact that properly managed diabetes poses a near zero threat to the plane's safety.

Again, I'm not saying that the society in Gattica is good or just in any way, I'm just saying that as far as the main character's plight is concerned, the organizations that ground him are in the right. At least, they are no more wrong that the current medical requirements for critical or isolated jobs.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Kurz on 12/21/2010 11:52:54 AM , Rating: 2
I guess working as a Janitor for his entire life soley because he has this heart condition is fair as well?

From what I gather he was quite intelligent.
He wasn't the one flying the space ship.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By bah12 on 12/21/2010 11:57:15 AM , Rating: 3
See my below comment your's and the films false assumption is that as a society we would allow this type of discrimination. We currently do not. A "genetically inferior" (I use that incredibly un-PC term only because it applies to the movie) person now cannot be discriminated against if they are qualified for the job.

Of course the drama of the movie is gone if you apply actual working laws to it.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By bah12 on 12/21/2010 11:53:23 AM , Rating: 3
Agreed although I liked the movie as an entertainment piece it just makes far too many assumptions. The worst of which is that as a society we would allow discrimination based on genetics. We don't now, why would "in the future".

What I latched on to was instead the idea of a disease free, longer living, intellectually superior society. Certainly the "haves" were portrayed as evil because the tech was not readily affordable to the "have nots", but again how is that different than now.

Cutting edge tech is always the realm of the haves, and certainly give them an "edge". But by doing so the tech is further funded and eventually brought to the masses.

Take smartphones, clearly they were a niche rich guy market at first, but scale of economics took over and now we all have them. Isn't the world better off now...wait.. never mind bad example *** runs off the road while posting from his smartphone ***


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By zixin on 12/21/2010 1:27:05 PM , Rating: 3
Why wouldn't we discrimniate? We do it based on completely dumb stuff like skin color and religion. Why wouldn't we do it based on something that is actually valid. There is no argument that the main character is physically inferior compare to his fellow astronauts at the academy. Also, health care company already pre-screen for health issue before offering health insurance. Before the new Health Care Bill they can even deny coverage based on pre-existing condition. Now imagine if they know as soon as youa are born that you have a 97% chance of getting a heart disease. Good luch getting insrance.

As to the "haves" and "have nots", just because it is going on now does not make it right. We are not talking about cutting edge toys here. We are talking about life defining changes. Those who has it will be forever entrenched in the top. They will get the best jobs and the greatest income while the rest will have to settle for the scraps. Having a smart phone dose not make you more competitive. Haveing the perfect genes would.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By bah12 on 12/21/2010 4:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
Can't believe I'm actually debating such a B rated movie but here goes.
quote:
Why wouldn't we discrimniate? We do it based on completely dumb stuff like skin color and religion.
Some companies do, but it is without a doubt illegal to do so. The courts are full of these cases and rightfully so. The movie clearly portrayed those without enhancements as not even eligible to try, even the act of doing so was illegal.
quote:
As to the "haves" and "have nots", just because it is going on now does not make it right.
Arguably not, but in a non-socialist nation it does make it a necessity. Without a potential market to sell the research is never invested in. With that said I wholeheartedly believe, since that type of future could end disease, it is perfectly fine to fund it with public funds.

As to
quote:
Those who has it will be forever entrenched in the top. They will get the best jobs and the greatest income while the rest will have to settle for the scraps.
All I can say is history proves you wrong. There are numerous examples of have nots rising to have status. Mr. Gates, Oprah, Shaq, dare I say Obama. They are well known but my great country is full of people that have fought off adversity to elevate themselves. Myself included. There was a time when I showered in a horse trough in a home with an unfinished interior. Today I'd consider myself upper middle class.

As another poster pointed out that is the true story of the film, no matter how "have not or inferior" you are by societies standards the human spirit can prevail.

Anyway it was only a movie, as to the subject at hand, kick ass stuff that must be used responsibly, but should not be ignored because of the possibility of abuse or religious fanaticism. IMHO


By Wiggy Mcshades on 12/22/2010 12:42:37 PM , Rating: 2
you assume a genetically superior human would stay just that. As you live your life you screw up your genome, you may have genetically been unable to develop disease x, y, or z when you were first born, but as you've lived those genes could of been deactivated by, from what epigenetic research has shown, anything. The mental stress that one would be under if you are "perfect" or "engineered" would probably be pretty intense and unrelenting, and unless these people have be redesigned to not feel stress then from that alone their nice new perfect genome could be ruined. A huge part of our development comes from mistakes, the genetic inferiority we have play a huge part in the big mistakes that we make as we develop, so if that's changed completely what stops these perfected people from being completely unable to develop into functioning members of society? So we can't just assume that the perfect person can or would stay that way, hell I doubt they'd even start that way. Our imperfections are most likely a necessary part of our existence. So even if your competing for a job maybe your best approach in the interview can be, "I make mistakes and am able to not have a mental break down shortly thereafter".


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Ammohunt on 12/21/10, Rating: -1
RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By kerpwnt on 12/21/2010 3:06:32 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The worst of which is that as a society we would allow discrimination based on genetics.

It's been a while since I've seen the movie, but I think genetic discrimination was illegal in their society. The main character implied (or maybe said outright) that everybody knew employers did it anyway. So, in fairness, the movie had portrayed it as a not-so-acceptable societal gray area.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Paj on 12/22/2010 7:46:23 AM , Rating: 2
People discriminate all the time. The only question is how overt it is. You could easily argue that women are discriminated in the workplace - their salaries are far lower than their male counterparts. Many discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity, income, caste all over the world. Is it illegal? Yes. Immoral? Yes. Does it happen everywhere, all the time? Yes.

From what I understand the US health system already discriminates against those with existing health conditions. Insurance companies, generally, have discrimination built into their policies. Its a short, slippery slope from that to the kind of scenario envisaged in Gattaca.

And as for smartphones... they still are a niche, rich guy market. The vast majority of people in the world don't have them, and never will. Billions of people (the majority of the world's population) dont even have electricity or running water, let alone phones.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By JediJeb on 12/22/2010 2:24:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And as for smartphones... they still are a niche, rich guy market. The vast majority of people in the world don't have them, and never will. Billions of people (the majority of the world's population) dont even have electricity or running water, let alone phones.


Hate to say it but this is a fact that so many in the "developed" world do not know. In fact you don't even have to leave the U.S. to encounter such things. I once told a co-worker that when I was growing up in the 70s we had to drive 15 miles on gravel roads before we got to town, he looked at me like I was crazy. I also had friends that up into the early 80s had electricity but no phone, and they still pulled their water from a cistern and took baths because they didn't have running water in their houses except for at the kitchen sink. The modern world is still not so wide spread as most think it is.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By trajan on 12/21/2010 12:09:33 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah I don't disagree with any of that. I think the movie was just trying to symbolically make the point (albeit imperfectly) that as humans we are more than the sum of our genes. That the human spirit can exceed the limits of the body. That's basically the whole theme of the movie (e.g. the main plot line, the subplot between the older and younger brothers and the swimming contest, the counter-example of Jude Law's character).

What I think is HIGHLY relevant about the movie is certain aspects (other than discrimination) of a society where DNA sequencing is quick and cheap, and where scientists have unlocked extensive genetic markers for appearance, physical traits and health.

Specifically:

1. that parents in such a society might use genetic testing of embryos to select the most "ideal" before starting a pregnancy. I think this is extremely likely and is already being done in limited ways today. As more genetic markers are identified, this has the potential to really take off for those parents who choose (and can afford it).

2. that people could use private labs that perform quick, cheap sequencing to genetically "snoop" on potential romantic partners or employees. Very likely in both cases, the law would advance to prohibit the practices, but you can imagine that the labs will continue to operate as long as they are the ones gathering the material. I think very similarly to how it is portrayed in Gattica, individuals and unscrupulous employers could be sneaking over to windowed booths and handing over a hair or two from their date/interviewee and asking for a quick report.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By zixin on 12/21/2010 1:12:52 PM , Rating: 3
I think you miss the point of the movie. The main character does not have a heart condition. He has the potential to develop a heart condition. Your example of airline pilots are for pre-existing condition, not when it could possibly develop 30 years down the road.

Also, he was one of the most brilliant students at Gattica despite his "disadvantages." The point of the movie is that genetic does not predict everything. Just because the main character has a 97% of developing a heart condition does not make him any less inferior than those who have suppossedly 0% chance of developing a heart condition. Just becuase the mission director has not a violent gene in his body does not mean he won't committ murder. Just because his brotehr was engineered to be better than the main character does not mean the brother could bid him in everything.

You can't discriminate based on genetics. Unfotunatley when the day when genetic engineering advanced to the stages of Gattica the world will be split between those who can afford the engineering and those who can't. Why take a chance on somebody that is not perfect?


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By melgross on 12/21/2010 6:28:46 PM , Rating: 2
Obviously nothing is perfect. But there are job requirements for physical fitness that should be observed.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Moishe on 12/22/2010 12:27:03 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you, but the problem is that you don't understand the premise. Gattica is about citizens who are lower class and less free because they are deemed less "fit" than others.

So let's say that the government (or anyone) says "sorry Moz, you can't get that job because you have DNA issue X."

You're likely to be discouraged from trying to overcome whatever ailment (real or perceived) that you may have. That's a form of slavery.

How do you know you really have the issue they say? Maybe their cousin wants the job and they fudged the results for that guy. That stuff happens all the time.

What if they are correct but the issue is so minor that it makes no difference? They have another excuse to turn you down because some azsclown has it out for you.

What if they found a common trait among Buddhists and decided that religion is "bad" for humanity. Buddhists can no longer get medical treatment, or jobs... Extreme? maybe, but even a tiny fraction of that kind of thinking is bad for everyone.

The point is, the vast majority of what we do is not crucial and we shouldn't be treated differently because we are not "perfect." Perfection is impossible, and humans have plenty of stupid reasons to look down on each other. We don't need another.

I support the knowledge. I support genome sequencing and the benefits that come from it... but human ability to enslave scares the hell out of me.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By SpaceJumper on 12/21/2010 2:50:31 PM , Rating: 2
We will no longer use Facebook, we will be using Genebook for making DNA friends.


RE: One step closer to Gattica!
By Riven98 on 12/21/2010 8:21:46 PM , Rating: 2
One point of note- the movie was named GattAca. You know,
Guanine-Adenine-Thymine-Thymine-Adenine-Cytosine- Adenine


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