Decoding Your DNA: Does First Class and Economy Already Exist?


Decoding Your DNA: Does First Class and Economy Already Exist?

I was intrigued by a recent Wired Magazine article, 23AndMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000. Welcome to the Age of Genomics. Although I don’t have $1,000 to have my DNA decoded right now, I’m still fascinated by the idea of learning what my genetic predispositions are. For example, did I inherit my dad’s genes for old-fashion artery calcification or will I be safe knowing that I got my mom’s genes instead?

After I read the Wired article, I stumbled upon a company called Knome — “know me,” get it? Neither did I. Anyways, their website appears to offer similar decoding services as 23AndMe. I was curious to know what they offered and what their cost was. I submitted my info to find out about their services. It took about a week for them to get back to me, and what I received was a little shocking.

Subject: Your Knome Sequencing Inquiry
Date: December 2, 2007 1:27:34 PM CST

Dear Mr. Henshaw,

Thank you for your interest in Knome’s whole-genome sequencing service. Knome is the first personal genomics company to offer whole-genome sequencing and analysis for individuals. Along with the opportunity of being among the first people in history to be sequenced, we provide you with a personal analysis and private consultation to review your results. An additional point of distinction is that each Knome client receives a digital copy of their sequenced genome and retains full ownership of it.

Another complementary mission of Knome is to provide researchers with access to sequenced whole genomes in order to enable Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS). We believe that approaching interested individuals directly is the fastest way to create the critical data needed to make significant scientific breakthroughs. That is why we also offer each client the option of allowing researchers to have access to their anonymous sequenced genome. While we hope that a significant percentage of our customers will do so, it is not required.

Because of the significant costs involved in whole-genome sequencing, our services are targeted towards individuals who have the personal desire and financial means to sequence their own genome. The price for our service starts at $350,000.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you would like to pursue this opportunity further or learn more I would be happy to be of assistance.

Best Regards,

Ari Kiirikki
VP — Genomic Services
Knome, Inc.
101 Main Street, 16th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
Direct: (xxx) xxx-xxxx

Now, I’m not sure how one company can decode your DNA for $1,000 and another can do it for $350,000, but Knome has certainly found a way. I can only hope and imagine that the $350,000 cost involves a team of scientists, massive super computers, daily massages, really good food and of course, amazing counseling for when I’m told I’m going to die in ten years of a brain tumor…they think.

In reality, their services are different. What Knome offers that 23AndMe doesn’t is sequencing, while 23AndMe only offers genotyping. What’s the difference? Here’s how 23AndMe explains it.

What is the difference between genotyping and sequencing?

Though you may hear both terms in reference to obtaining information about DNA, genotyping and sequencing refer to slightly different things.

Genotyping is the process of determining which genetic variants an individual possesses. Genotyping can be performed through a variety of different methods, depending on the variants of interest and resources available. At 23andMe, we look at SNPs, and a good way of looking at many SNPs in a single individual is a recently developed technology called a “DNA chip.”

Sequencing is a method used to determine the exact sequence of a certain length of DNA. Depending on the location, a given stretch may include some DNA that varies between individuals, like SNPs, in addition to regions that are constant. So sequencing is one way to genotype someone, but not the only way.

You might wonder, then, why we don’t just sequence everyone’s entire genome, and find every single genetic variant they possess. Unfortunately, sequencing technology has not yet progressed to the point where it is feasible to sequence an entire genome quickly and cheaply. It took the Human Genome Project over 10 years’ work by multiple labs to sequence the three billion base pair genomes of just a few individuals. For now, genotyping technologies such as those used by 23andMe provide an efficient and cost-effective way of obtaining more than enough genetic information for scientists—and you—to study.

My feeling is that Knome’s services is overkill, but if you’re Montogomery Burns, it’s probably perfect for you. However, if you’re someone who doesn’t have the personal desire and financial means to partake in Knome’s first class DNA decoding — I mean sequencing — service, 23AndMe may be the right fit for you. As for me, I’m waiting until they make it free through Facebook.

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