31_George Church

Open-Source DNA

Unraveling the first human genome took 13 years and $3 billion. Within the next five years, scientists aim to have that down to about 90 seconds–and $1,000. In the meantime, if you’re willing to share, George Church will sequence your DNA for free.

Church is a Harvard genetics professor and a founder of the Personal Genome Project (PGP), which hopes to make personal genomes as accessible and useful as personal computers. He wants folks to offer up DNA for a massive public database that researchers, physicians, and private companies alike will use to test hypotheses and study genetic patterns. “The intention is to take a safe route to a valuable resource,” Church says. In a decade, he thinks, we’ll be talking about our DNA the way we discuss cholesterol levels.

Proponents of the PGP believe it could have a dramatic impact on the field of personalized medicine, where customized drugs will be tailored to each person’s unique genetic code. But understanding the function of any one gene is a lot easier if you can see how it behaves across a large population. Publishing your own personal bio tell-all could have implications from the predictable (denial of medical insurance) to the fantastic (being framed for a crime with synthetic DNA). But as a founding member of the Human Genome Project, Church believes a public database is the only way to go. “It would be irresponsible to promise anonymity,” he says. “Everyone is going to be using this information. The data will get out.”