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Rewriting Life

The Personal Genome Sequencer

Eugene Chan’s machine could reveal your genetic makeup in minutes.

The Human Genome Project decoded the entire genetic material of a composite person. It took more than a decade and cost $3 billion. Eugene Chan aims to sequence a genome in less than 45 minutes, for around $1,000. Chan’s goal is to make it possible to sequence and store individual genomes, allowing doctors to diagnose ailments and discern which medicines will work best on the basis of a patient’s specific genetic makeup. In this vision, a patient’s genome sequence will be a part of a thorough medical history. To turn that into reality, Chan founded a company, U.S. Genomics, while he was in medical school. He left medical school after two years to devote himself to developing the GeneEngine, a machine he says is three to four years away from being able to quickly and cheaply sequence the human genome’s roughly three billion letters. Chan and his machine are already attracting attention from leading experts. U.S. Genomics has announced a collaboration with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, a major sequencing center for the Human Genome Project. And J. Craig Venter, former head of the project’s rival, Celera Genomics, joined the company’s board in August. Chan recently showed Technology Review senior associate editor, Erika Jonietz, the company’s labs in Woburn, MA, and demonstrated the technology behind his sequencing machine.

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