31 October 2011

US$10 Million Contest to Sequence Centenarian Genome

Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) company, Medco Health Solutions Inc, held a contest on which laboratory can accurately and economically sequence 100 genomes. The genome sequence should focus on the DNA of people over 100 years old.

The prize? US$$10 million.

Geneticist Craig Venter says, "All the technology that people are buying now gives slightly different answers. That means by definition they are not good enough for diagnostics."

Difference in standards among medical companies complicate the quality, speed and accuracy of the tests. Achieving a medical standard can address this. Companies involved in this line of business includes Applied Biosystems, Illumina and Complete Genomics. And all of them have their own standards.

The aim is to achieve a "medical grade" standard for gene sequencing that could be used for personalizing medical treatment based on the person's genes.

Craig Venter is known for being one of the first to sequence the human genome. He also created the first cell with a synthetic genome in 2010. He is now working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with an agreed upon definition "to take genomics to the next grade".

Video: Sequencing the human genome:

100 centenarians are currently being selected and their genomes will be given to laboratories on Jan 2013. The contest will end on Feb 2013. Laboratory teams will compete on the accuracy, cost, speed and completeness of genome sequencing. The first team to accurately sequence the whole genome of the 100 subjects within the time period of 30 days will get the US$10 million prize. The allowable error rate for the competition should be less than one per million base pairs.

If successful, Venter believes that this will innovate and open up a whole new possibility in treating medical conditions.

Unlike embryonic stem cell research, genome technology would allow scientists and geneticists to create a cell from a synthetic genome structure. That cell can be designed to address a medical condition or biological defect.

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