What the Genomic Revolution Means to You

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Send a man to the Moon in one decade. Sequence the human genome in 15 years.

The genome was sequenced ahead of schedule. It took 13 years. But the work didn’t exactly stop there. The Human Genome Project gave us the genomic blueprint, the ordering of the letters of our genome—all three billion of them. Scientists then had to try to “read those letters, understand that language, figure out that grammar,” explains Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

This challenge required the development of computational methods that would allow scientists to interpret which parts of these three billion letters “are actually doing something biologically important,” Green told Big Think in a recent interview. For instance, what role do differences in genomes play in human disease? That’s the great frontier in biomedical research.

The scientific advances, however, “are coming fast and furious,” Green says, and so it is becoming increasingly important for the general public to become familiar with aspects of genomics that will impact “routine medical care in profound ways.”

This realization led Green to initiate a partnership with the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and the debut of an exhibition called “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” on the tenth anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project.

The multimedia exhibition—on view at the National Museum of Natural History through Sept. 1, 2014—is designed to provide the general public with the most cutting edge information.

So how will the genomic revolution affect your life?

“Nobody ever keeps up with Moore’s Law except the computer industry,” says Green, referring to the observation that computer processing power doubles roughly every 18 months.

Even by using “the old fashioned method” of DNA sequencing, Green says the genome project kept up with Moore’s Law quite effectively. Now that sequencing methods have been sufficiently industrialized, progress in the field of genomics has actually outpaced Moore’s Law.

In the video below, Green explains how new technologies for sequencing DNA are becoming increasingly small and increasingly cheap. One such device plugs into the USB port of a laptop computer. “I’m told it can sequence a human genome in something like a day,” Green says.

“Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” will be on view at the National Museum of Natural History through Sept. 1, 2014, when it will begin a tour of venues throughout North America.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton


33 thoughts on “What the Genomic Revolution Means to You

  1. Sadly at the same time we learned how to do gene sequencing really fast we discovered that most of what happens to us is driven by our environment. Identical twins have widely divergent outcomes if one splits them up.

    Lifespan, cancer risk everything correlates much better with environment than it does with genes. But when one has invested so much in an idea one has to just keep selling it.

  2. Why do you need a day and a USB stick? Just make an app and put it on the Chrome Web Store, Play Store and other platforms for free, let the devices crunch all the data through your servers, and a few seconds later, the results will have been crunched via p2p and your server. Look like you just need a decent IT team to fix this small problem… Then once its up and running, should be done within 6 weeks of you reading this message, just post the link back on the video, and I'll help promote it for you. BTW, the app could run in the same way the Berkley SETI at home app works.

  3. Did someone screw up the title to this vid? Anyway, sequencings here for under a thousand already, but scientists say they're having a hard time translating the sequence into meaningful information..where's the solution to this? It's just another pile up of data without applications.

  4. 2040: Most diseases and all congenital conditions cured, many enhancements to human intelligence and capability enabled by gene re-sequencing. However, the copyrighting of dna sequences by corporations has made the ability to take advantage of these advances unfeasibly expensive for the average person, who turns to the Internet to procure bootleg copies of the data for gene therapies that have been leaked, and then applies those therapies using nanobots provided by their 3D printers. As usual with piracy there is very little risk of being caught by the authorities, but the chances of contracting a virus is high… and with much more dire, personal consequences.

  5. The only thing that worries me about this? With a view to over population, all your info will be readily available and if certain POWERS think that your thoughts or your Genome is defective then what. A high frequency HZ to knock you off the ladder or what.  Just a thought!

  6. i can't express this thought enough, there is not one thing that is all important or exists on it's own. the sequencing of the human genome is about promoting human life, population. advancement is not limited to the continuance of populations. robotics is advancement that eliminates the need for ppl. neither one of these advancement's is going to be halted in favor of the other. what happens when tech has eliminated the need for several billion as a work force that genomics is promoting ? he may be optimistically exited, i am not.

  7. So FDA put 23andme on a halt, for doing what everyone with a computer will be able to do within five years?

    Also I was so prod when I understood how Sanger sequencing is made, but that's obsolete now?

  8. Human genome can be, as well, understood as a system;
    a system, it has a purpose, it has elements, and it has relations (e.g., between its elements). We need to furhter understand better the relations of this kind of system. It is likely to exist way more relations in the system, than there are actually elements in it…!

  9. Kudos to all the geneticist on planet earth. With your hard work and dedication, hopefully the human being will discover where it originally comes from……and we can FINALLY put our petty differences aside and stop endangering our own species over "invisible skydaddies". 

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