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Stephen Quake Reduces the Cost of Sequencing a Human Genome to $50,000


In August 2009 it was announced that bioengineer Stephen R. Quake of Stanford University invented a new technology for decoding DNA that could sequence a human genome at a cost of $50,000. 

"Dr. Quake’s machine, the Heliscope Single Molecule Sequencer, can decode or sequence a human genome in four weeks with a staff of three people. The machine is made by a company he founded, Helicos Biosciences, and costs 'about $1 million, depending on how hard you bargain,' he said.

"Only seven human genomes have been fully sequenced. They are those of J. Craig Venter, a pioneer of DNA decoding; James D. Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix; two Koreans; a Chinese; a Yoruban; and a leukemia victim. Dr. Quake’s seems to be the eighth full genome, not counting the mosaic of individuals whose genomes were deciphered in the Human Genome Project."

"For many years DNA was sequenced by a method that was developed by Frederick Sanger in 1975 and used to sequence the first human genome in 2003, at a probable cost of at least $500 million. A handful of next-generation sequencing technologies are now being developed and constantly improved each year. Dr. Quake’s technology is a new entry in that horse race.

"Dr. Quake calculates that the most recently sequenced human genome cost $250,000 to decode, and that his machine brings the cost to less than a fifth of that.

“ 'There are four commercial technologies, nothing is static and all the platforms are improving by a factor of two each year,' he said. 'We are about to see the floodgates opened and many human genomes sequenced.'

"He said the much-discussed goal of the $1,000 genome could be attained in two or three years. That is the cost, experts have long predicted, at which genome sequencing could start to become a routine part of medical practice" (Nicholas Wade, NY Times,, /11gene.html?8dpc).

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