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Few skeletons in every genome

Today we have had another Kavli Colloquium. Actually, my day was busy and nervous, and I thought I could skip “this bio stuff” and concentrate at work at hand. I’ve changed the decision at the last moment and have not regretted: in fact, I think it was one of the best colloquia I ever attended.

Though there was hardly any physics. Stephen Quake, prof Bioingenering from Stanford and enterpreneur, has neatly and skilfully tuned the presentation to the perception and level of general physical audience, I appreciate much his effort to get us following. The talk did not sound any “biological” though it was.

It was about reading genomes of individual humans by means of single-molecule DNA sequencing. Stephen Quake is a leading palyer in the field. Three years ago he read his own genome for $ 50,000 cost. According to his projections, this cost can drop to $ 500 whithin years. The reading of someone’s genome can become as usual as a blood test. And perhaps will become compulsory as a drug test (in order to descrease costs of medical aid by early detection of potential gene-related medical problems). The positive sides of it are clear (though, as was stressed in the talk, less obvious than we’d like them to be). With a bit of imagination, one can picture negative sides of it (don’t want to do this here, leave it as an exercise for the reader).

When I was a kid, I read stories about scientists whose work reshapes the world within years. I think today I finally came reasonably close to seeing one. Stephen Quake looks very human, more human than most profs of science (me including). That’s why I sympathize with him and wish him to never regret the opportunities his research may unleash…

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