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The other world-changing thing I saw tonight

I didn't just see the Google Glass on +Sergey Brin tonight (I can't wait for +Thomas Hawk to post his high-resolution images, neat to see the press go crazy over our photos tonight at http://www.techmeme.com/120406/p3#a120406p3 ) but Han Cao, founder and chief scientific officer at BioNano Genomics showed me this chip. See BioNano's website here: http://www.bionanogenomics.com/

Costs about $1,000 to make, so you'll pay about $5,000 to use it retail. Can only be used once. But what does it do? It will make a photo of your DNA.

Here's the text off of their web site that explains why this is awesome -- soon our entire genome will be turned into a database so you'll know just how likely your potential future kids will have some weird disease. I saw this at the Foundation Fighting Blindness fundraising dinner (details at http://www.blindness.org/index.php?view=article&catid=85%3Afundraising-events&id=558%3Adining-in-the-dark&option=com_content&Itemid=169 ):


BioNano Genomics introduces an altogether better way of looking at DNA and other long biomolecules. With our revolutionary new platform, you can conduct unique studies to gain a complete picture of genome biology, including DNA structural variation that current tools fail to highlight.

Combining the latest in nanotech and biotech, our soon-to-launch nanoAnalyzer System allows you to visualize the whole genome, capturing extremely long molecules at high resolution. With this big-picture context in hand, you can:

Achieve more complete assemblies using a detailed view of the whole genome for de novo assembly and finishing
Gain novel insight into structural variants that underlie phenotypic variation
Unlock true genome biology with a range of applications that leverage single-molecule imaging of genomic architecture and context
Avoid the hassle and bias of amplification or shearing and dissect complex mixtures at single-molecule level, rather than losing rare variants in an averaged measurement. This cost-effective, high-throughput platform allows you to visualize whole genomes and view your findings in a broader context.
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50 comments
 
Didn't someone just discover a whole new 'branch' of DNA?? Does this photo capture that too???
 
Every time someone takes a photo of my DNA, it comes out all crappy because my eyes are closed or I moved or something.
 
+Uwe Trottmann yeah, lots of companies are working on this kind of stuff. It's amazing what we can do today. In January I met the doctor who worked on Steve Jobs and he's built a machine to map out all the proteins in a drop of our blood.
 
+Clinton Hammond this chip just straightens out any DNA and makes it possible to take a photo of it. So, yes, it would.
 
+Robert Scoble was that doctor like the one we saw on Episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith)? I think Jobs would have had a "black suit" lined up, ready to instruct the construction of the deathstar..
 
Call me a skeptic, but that blurt at the end of your post, rings of buzzword bingo.
 
+martin shervington I often feel like I live in some science fiction movie. Not sure about the deathstar, though my dad worked on Star Wars programs at Lockheed (military satellites that were designed to survive nuclear war in space). :-)
 
wow what an invention...so it does by scanning is it? How do they install to take pictures of DNA?
 
+mark kua it has tens of thousands of channels, where the DNA is stretched out, sort of like a train going through a tunnel, and then it can be passed through a very very tiny "gap" where a high-powered microscope can take pictures of the DNA.
 
+Robert Scoble that is a cool thing to have in the family. Shame about the deathstar, that would be a top trump winner down the pub :D
 
did you wear it? is it cool and awesome?
 
I really hope we can see the cost come down on this technology blazingly fast.
 
Just imagine... *Now you can unlock your iPhone 42 using a DNA scan!"
 
Is this April Fool's Day stuff. A 12 marker DNA y-chromosome test costs less than $200.
BAG GAB
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Call me a Luddite but the Genetic Engineering worries me...I keep thinking Gattaca.
 
Cool gadgetry aside, the moral implications and the possible social consequences of this scanning are disturbing. Images from "Gattaca" come to mind. A new society, where your genes - and not your will and hard work - dictate what jobs you can have. There are many stories of people who lost at the genes roulette at birth, but still went on, overcame adversity and lead inspiring lives. I dread the day when such people will not be born anymore simply because a device said their "perfection probability" is too low. (Incidentally, I also wonder how many of the history's worst criminals had perfect genes).

Yes, it's a bleak point of view. My pessimism could be unfounded and humanity will maybe just use this for the better. But our track record is not that good so far.

Here, there be dragons...
 
+B Gallagher isn't it good that there are people who are, at the least, skeptic? There are people like me who are completely gun-ho for new technology and then there are people to keep the researches in check so they step back once in a while and consider the implications of their discoveries. All of us working for a better tomorrow!
BAG GAB
 
+Sebastian Paul Avarvarei I don't think that your pessimism is unfounded in this one area of human endeavor.

I stress robotics because no amount of genetic manipulation will make a human that can exist in outer space.

But it's academic, we will tinker with our selves.
 
Ya'll need to watch Kaiba if you're worried about transhumanism being evil. Trust me, if Kaiba is to be believed, our enemy is not transhumanism via ambition but the fact that prolonging life preserves the douchebags of the universe longer. With that in mind, the spinoff benefits will probably lead to some kind of biotech hard drive which has a billion TB able to be stored on it based on DNA style programming.
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+Eric Jensen I'm an avid futurist...mankind will probably muddle through on Genetic Engineering. Then again mankind could end up a mono-culture.

Given mankind's overall immaturity, I just think robotics would be better now.
 
+Eric Jensen Diversity is good indeed. And don't get me wrong, I drool over new gadgets like the next geek. I'm not advocating stopping research into these new technologies - however I do feel that we have to put a similarly strong effort into at least thinking about the implications of using them.
 
If we are not careful, this will be a real boon to insurance companies. They will better be able to predict health risks and pick out individuals with preexisting conditions that don't even exist yet and exclude them from their pool or at least charge them more. Once excluded from coverage they will either die off and fulfill the demands of social Darwinism or survive through frequent ER visits which the rest of us will pay for though increased hospital care costs.
We need to be careful with new technology, not in an effort to prevent development, but to make every effort to anticipate negative consequences and take actions to minimize such negative effects. In this case Obamacare would go far to protect the public from some potential negative consequences of human genome Illumination.
 
ooo a whole new era of racism based on fact rather than prejudice. lets hope mercy is not far behind ingenuity.
 
Taking pictures of DNA? In porn they call that the money shot.
 
Is the social standing by DNA too far away. See GATTACA as refernce.
 
N.B.: +Robert Scoble, I came across a different technological approach that allows electronic identification of (known) DNA sequences by registering strings hybridizing with probe material. These seemed to be potentially much less costly in the long run of technology development and scale economies. While development of this particular project seem to have been shelved for funding reasons, the approach in general is worth pursuing resp. resurrecting.

However, note that DNA is only one component in the information ecology of cell processes. Information passed on through RNA and proteins needs to be considered as well and is potentially more interesting, as DNA tells you about 'starting points' for the pathways in the synthesis of cell elements - but not necessarily about the dynamic interactions that unfold in the cells molecular information ecology.
 
In future there will be websites where people will post their DNA images.
 
DNA Status Update on FB! "Sometimes the world feels so big....."
 
I for one think that the supposed Gattaca overlords are too stupid to accomplish a truly authoritarian gene policing system, one only has to look at how much fail attempts at creating a superhuman race via eugenics has contained before, not just through lack of human ethics but through downright unrealistic application, like how somehow people thought getting a bunch of elitist hunky blonde men to mate with a bunch of hot women would somehow work in a world where women suddenly proclaimed they had more intelligence than what men gave them credit for. Yep, feminism kinda ruined eugenics forever.
 
Wow now i can really get a clear picture...but can u furthur explain on how it can actually scan through long molecules of DNA strand in our boby,with its video for me to take a clear picture...
 
agree that having records of everyone's genomes should be valuable in better understanding/treating disease in the future, unfortunately we are a long way away from deconvoluting this data but hopefully it will come...
 
Am I the only one who is worried this will be used more often for dubious or outright evil purposes than it will for good ones?
Never mind the Hitleresque scenarios, wait till the health insurance companies get hold of it!
 
+Steve Bushi good point. I don't know a lot about biology, but from what I can glean from CrashCourse on youtube even if they mapped your DNA they'd need to find out the probability of a specific gene being expressed. You can have the gene for a certain illness, but never suffer from it since it isn't expressed. Having the gene would probably put you in a different risk group for the insurance companies, but which one?
 
So watching the company video this just looks like a high resolution FISH, I'm sure it'll help genome assembly but it's not a "photo" of your DNA.

To the uninitiated, here's why this may be useful:
Current (widely-ish) DNA sequencing machines just read fragments of DNA but do so with massive levels of parallelisation generating millions and millions of subsequences. (For example an Illumina sequencer will produce around 100 base pairs (letters of DNA) per read, a 454 machine more like a few hundred bp.) We then rely on sizable computational power to assemble a complete genome from the fragments. This works well for the fairly unique, non repetitive bits of DNA, but a lot of any given genome is highly repetitive and no amount of computing power can resolve a puzzle when all the pieces look the same.

The result is (on a first pass), lots of sequence fragments which then have to be further stitched together some how. There are lots of ways to do this, including special methods using the sequencers mentioned above that I won't go into here, but a good old fashioned-ish way is something called fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH). I'll simplify, but in essence you take some of the unique stretches of DNA you know about and make a fluoresecently labeled probe from them and bind them to their complementary DNA present in whole chromosomes. This tells you what chromosome the DNA is on, and performed with many different probes helps to build up a long range map of where all your fragments sit in relation to each other.

The advantage of the chip above is that it will do the same thing as FISH, but presumably with shorter probes and at a higher resolution, for an awful lot cheaper than the alternative techniques.
 
+Eric Jensen, +Steve Bushi Makes a very good point, what you're describing is epigenetics, and believe me we've been able to determine gene expression levels for a long time now. First using DNA microarrays and now using something called RNAseq. In a medical context it's already been used to identify gene expression profiles associated with more aggressive tumours.

If an insurance company wanted to know if you were expressing a particular gene they could even assay that single gene in a given tissue (though I suppose brain biopsies would be out) for dollars using a technique based on PCR.

The real technical challenge is some gene alleles appear utterly normal until they appear with other alleles. It takes a lot of data, from a lot of people, to sort that out, but believe me the work is already being done. Check out the UK10K project for example.

To be honest I think the only way to realistically keep health insurance viable in every medical situation is to block provider access to predictive genomic data...
 
+Christopher Gaul the insurance companies should have less interest in this as it has the potential to destroy the basis of their business: ignorance which requires guesstimation / estimation of risks and associated costs averaged over large populations.

If the probabilities of developping certain conditions are ( believed) to be known and reflected in insurance premiums in a (supposedly) free- market kind of pricing those facing low risks will probably not even bother to insure, while those with high risks will not want to pay for it because it is to expensive and requires too much of restriction in other areas.

However, society at large may strongly want to cover both groups, though: low risk because low risk is not zero risk and zero cost and those with high risks because we happen to care and social as well as economic repercussions might be too high. So this is a perfect basis for a state-mandated compulsory, general health insurance covering general risks and a basic, acceptable level of treatment as e.g. in Switzerland. No business for free market insurance companies anymore... except on the lower volume additional health insurance market.

The next issue is that DNA information alone will likelynot be enough information as the music plays in the information interactions resulting from the transcription of the DNA, involving more complexity with the potential to blow up calculations based on purely DNA-based risk estimates. Errors in calculation might be too costly to ensure survival of insurance companies.

See e.g. here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/sb300012g
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