These Machines Just Broke the Sound Barrier of Human Genome Sequencing

Ever since the first human genome was decoded at a cost of $3 billion, scientists have been pushing for a moonshot goal: a system that can process thousands of genomes at a cost of $1,000 each. Today, Illumina unveiled a set of machines that do just that. For geneticists and medical researchers, this is a watershed moment.

Illumina's HiSeq X Ten system offers biomedical research institutes a set of 10 machines that work together to process over 18,000 human genome samples a year, at a cost of $1,000 per sample. That's one-tenth the cost per sample of current techniques, and a huge reduction in the time spent on each sample.

It's hard to overstate the importance of this development in the world of research science and population health. Entire books have been written on how inexpensive genome sequencing will change the face of medicine. This isn't junk science mail-order genetic testing; the ability to rapidly, cheaply compile population-level genetic information is our key to understanding the genetic basis for diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Naturally, this technology is aimed far above the average consumer's head: among the first HiSeq X Ten customers is Harvard and MIT's Broad Institute, a nonprofit biomedical and genomic research organization with a $400 million endowment. But the benefits of this technology touch everyone, healthy or not.

Decoding the human genome is like translating the human body's instruction manual. The more we know about how disease-causing genes are inherited, how normal genes are corrupted, and how certain genes predispose patients to diseases, the better we'll be able to treat, predict, and perhaps even prevent the diseases that vex medicine today. [Illumina via Businessweek]