Biotechnologist and medical student Jay Shendure is revolutionizing genetics with a new way to sequence DNA.
In 2005, he used off-the-shelf parts to determine the order of all the DNA bases in a bacterial genome, at 20 times the speed and one-ninth the cost of traditional DNA sequencing. Shendure is now working to make the process even more efficient; by 2015, he says, it may enable biologists to sequence a person’s genome for just $1,000.
The technique builds on polony sequencing, a method developed in George Church’s lab at Harvard. Shendure spreads millions of tiny beads on a glass slide, each attached to a small DNA fragment. He then adds fluorescently labeled DNA bases. The bases bind to short, complementary DNA sequences, and a standard fluorescence microscope records which base is at each position on a fragment.
Shendure next plans to use the technique to sequence the genome of a lung tumor in order to identify the genetic mutations that caused it.