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Scientists find a low-cost way to build genomes from scratch

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To put it mildly, sequencing and building a genome from scratch isn't cheap. It's sometimes affordable for human genomes, but it's often prohibitively expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars) whenever you're charting new territory -- say, a specific person or an unfamiliar species. A chromosome can have hundreds of millions of genetic base pairs, after all. Scientists may have a way to make it affordable across the board, however. They've developed a new method, 3D genome assembly, that can sequence and build genomes from the ground up for less than $10,000.


Where earlier approaches saw researchers using computers to stick small pieces of genetic code together, the new technique takes advantages of folding maps (which show how a 6.5ft long genome can cram into a cell's nucleus) to quickly build out a sequence. As you only need short reads of DNA to make this happen, the cost is much lower. You also don't need to know much about your sample organism going in.


As an example of what's possible, the team completely assembled the three chromosomes for the Aedes aegypti mosquito for the first time. More complex organisms would require more work, of course, but the dramatically lower cost makes that more practical than ever. Provided the approach finds widespread use, it could be incredibly valuable for both biology and medicine.


In the case of the mosquito, scientists hope the genomes will reveal the vulnerabilities that let the Zika virus spread. You could see gene-modified mosquitoes that resist the virus and stop it from spreading. Alternately, this could uncover patient-specific genetic changes that expose humans to certain diseases -- it wouldn't be a mystery why one person falls ill while another is healthy. And when it's relatively affordable to build a genome out of curiosity, biologists could catalog many species instead of the most vital examples.


Google will power Stanford's genomics service


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Stanford aims to make genetic testing a normal part of patient care, and it's teaming up with Google to make that happen. The university's School of Medicine will launch Clinical Genomics Service this fall, which is powered by Google Genomics that stores DNA data in the cloud. DNA sequencing is built into the system -- doctors that request for it will get a large amount of data back. They can then use Google Cloud to analyze the data they get and compare it against other information in the system to find any anomaly that might be responsible for a patient's condition. It could improve how doctors treat different cancers and help decipher illnesses that are especially hard to diagnose and treat correctly.


Lloyd Minor, Stanford's School of Medicine dean, said:


"In the past few years, the amount of available data about health care has exploded. While researchers are learning to integrate this big data, putting it to work for individual patients, in real time, is a huge challenge. Our collaboration with Google will help us to meet this challenge."


While Stanford is storing all the DNA data it gets on the Google Cloud Platform, only the university will have access to it. Further, the system will encrypt patient information and keep it within servers in the United States for extra security.


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