Sequencing technologies

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 showing improvements in the rate of sequence generation over a 30-year period

Improvements in the rate of sequence generation over a 30-year period.

A. Manual slab gel
B. Automated slab gel
C. First-generation capillary
D. Second-generation capillary sequencer
E. Microwell pyrosequencing
F. Short-read sequencers
G. Single molecule?

Credit:

Graph reproduced with permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature 458, 719-724 (2009).

References

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Genes, Genomes and Health’ in January 2010 and reviewed and updated in December 2014.

Topics:
Genetics and genomics, History
Issue:
Genes, Genomes and Health
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development