Seldom in history has a scientific breakthrough held such huge potential for humankind as the ability to sequence the human genome. Every day, researchers and clinicians are applying the results of genetic sequencing to treat, cure and even prevent thousands of diseases. And, they are doing so at a faster pace, and often at less cost, than traditional methods that do not employ genetic information.
Sequencing DNA would not be possible without advanced computational tools. But even as these tools are being improved, a major challenge remains: sequencing is a massive data-processing task. The term “big data” barely begins to describe genetic sequencing. A single sample of a person’s DNA is about 300GB of raw data, and the latest DNAsequencing research projects involve as many as 50,000 to 100,000 participants, each of whose DNA will be sampled several times over the course of a research study. The database for a single project can grow into the petabytes. And, there are multiple projects on this scale being conducted or planned worldwide.
A big reason so much genetic sequencing is being conducted is that the cost of doing so is dropping precipitously. Since completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, the cost of sequencing a single human genome has plunged from about $100 million to less than $1,000.
But there’s a more important reason behind the explosion of genetic sequencing — the potential impact on human lives.