How have gene sequencing technologies developed, and what does this mean for researchers today?
The first complete genome to be sequenced, in 1977, came from a tiny bacterium-infecting virus called phi X174. It has just 11 genes and a little over 5,000 base pairs. Since then, biology has seen an explosion of sequence information.
The speed is a by-product of the efforts that went into the Human Genome Project. Ever-improving technologies have made DNA sequencing faster, more accurate and far cheaper. In 1997, it cost about $1 per base to sequence DNA. A decade later, $1 paid for 1,000 bases.
Today, DNA sequences are stored in fast-growing computer databases. The data centre at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute outside Cambridge currently has 28 petabytes (peta = 1 followed by 15 zeros) of storage, enough for around 40,000 laptops. Researchers need powerful software to search the DNA sequences. Bioinformatics – the art of harnessing computer power to make sense of mountains of biological data – is a growth area, along with genomics.
Graph reproduced with permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature 458, 719-724 (2009).
- Nucleotide sequence of bacteriophage phi X174 DNA (1977)
- The cancer genome (2009)
- Reconstructing a DNA Sequence from Erroneous Copies (1997)
- Next-Generation Genome Sequencing: Towards Personalized Medicine. Ed. Michal Janitz (2008) [PDF]
- PDF of Sequencing technologies [PDF 120KB]