A cluster of posts over at FuturePundit show how advances in computing technology are driving the biotechnology revolution. The call for information is strong, and the computing industry is answering it - and then some. This time next decade, we're going to be swimming in so much information about human biochemistry - and so many more people are going to be producing it on demand - that the limit to progress will be our ability to manage all this data. The answers and paths to cures will all be there, waiting to be found by data miners.
Using current methods, programmed synthesis of a typical gene cluster costs thousands of dollars. The system developed by Gao and her partners employs digital chemistry technology similar to that used in making computer chips and thereby reduces cost and time factors drastically. Her group estimates that the new technology will be about one hundred times more cost- and time-efficient than current technologies.
The harnessing of electronic technologies to solve problems in biological science and biotechnology will lower costs and accelerate the rate of advance by orders of magnitude. Both the reading of DNA (sequencing) and the writing (synthesis) will become extremely cheap.
The technology needed] to understand the gene sequence - that's going to go to silicon. There are startups in Silicon Valley coming into our company saying they want us to build holes so small that one DNA molecule will fit in them. They want to watch it fluoresce and find out what it is. And they want millions of chips.
the most interesting part of the article mentions that Genizon has used improvements gene chip technology to speed up their genetic studies by more than an order of magnitude.
The initial Genizon map, completed in 2004, was created from 1,500 members of the Quebec founder population and had about 81,000 markers. Genizon has now improved its gene hunting capabilities even further, by using a gene chip produced by Illumina, a genetic toolkit company in California, which incorporates markers from both the HapMap and original Quebec map, for a total of more than 350,000 markers per individual. Studies that initially took scientists three months now take just a week
In 1974, it cost $100 million to sequence a gene. Today, it cost $3, and by 2013, it will be 3 cents.
I think all the conventional ways to project future increases in life expectancy are greatly underestimating the effects of coming advances in biotechnology. Our knowledge is not simply increasing with the same fixed amount of knowledge added to the sum total of our knowledge every year. Rather, the rate at which we can collect knowledge is increasing. That trend looks set to continue for decades to come.
People who do not see this biotechnological revolution in rejuvenation on the horizon are akin to someone in 1965 saying that of course computers must take up whole rooms and that we'll never have desktop computers which are many orders of magnitude faster than 1965 mainframes. We are going to gain the ability to manipulate cells and genes on a level that will allow us to repair our aged bodies. There's nothing about the nature of physical reality that precludes our developing the ability to do this.
These last points should be common wisdom, and we should all do our part to try and make them so. That biotechnology will reach these heights in the next 20 years is something of a foregone conclusion at this point. The real issue is whether these enabling technologies will be used effectively and directly to extend the healthy human life span, rather than simply stumbling forward fixing each problem as it starts to kill large numbers of people, and slowly extending life spans as a side-effect.
We can do better than incidental healthy life extension, but it is not a given that this will happen, nor that it will happen in time to help those suffering age-related degeneration today, tomorrow, or decades from now. That is what we fight for - in the end, it becomes a matter of life and death for all of us.