Tuesday, 5 July 2011

15 minute Genome to Help Prevent Aspergillosis

The human genome was sequenced several years ago (2001) with a final 'fine detail' version finished a few years later (2004) after a monumental international effort taking 10-15 years in all.
Analysis tells us many of the 'physical' features of the genome, not least telling us how many  genes there are (expressed and non-expressed), where they are, whether they are likely to be expressed and their DNA sequence.
However the human genome is not a fixed entity. There are differences that occur regularly between the DNA of individuals and groups of people and some of those differences caused differences in how the genes coded by the DNA work - there can be many different variants for a single gene in a population of people. For example eye colour is controlled by many variants of several genes

Our immune systems are also controlled in part by our genes. Variations in those genes can make us resistant or vulnerable to infection, depending on the gene and on the mutations. It is easy to conclude that people who are genetically predisposed to getting infections will be relatively easy to identify once we know which mutations in which genes are important to resist for example an aspergillosis infection. Research is currently focussing on this question (Read this review for more details).

This sounds great  as in theory we will be able to identify mutations in individuals at risk from aspergillosis or other infection and to treat them before they get infected. Unfortunately it isn't as easy as that as to do that we would need to sequence their genome, or at least the parts we know we need to look at. To get a complete picture we may need to sequence the entire genome and as we know that takes 10-15 years to achieve - or does it??

This article in the Economist newspaper shows us the latest new technology for sequencing DNA. Nanopore sequencing offers a massive speed upgrade compared with traditional sequencing methods which date back to the 1970's. Feeding DNA strands through nanopore molecules may allow us to sequence an entire genome in a few minutes. Marry that with powerful computers to read the DNA sequences and theoretically it may become possible to sequence everyone's DNA - The Economist suggests 'while you wait' but that might be a little optimistic.
Is this the technology of the far distant future and only of potential use to our grandchildren? Apparently not! The Economist suggests such technology may be available within 2 years.

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