The dramatic ascension of genetics and our overall understanding of biology throughout the twentieth century had culminated with a dramatic and news-grabbing race to decode the entire human genome. This was a monumental achievement; especially since just a decade or two earlier even the most optimistic experts did not expect something like this to be accomplished for another hundred years or so. However, the remarkable improvements in the sequencing technologies and the computing tools, as well as the sudden realization by the entrepreneurs that genetics could be the new technological goldmine, all contributed to the rapid actualization of the dream that had been set in motion with the discovery of the DNA. The beginning of the twenty-first century was a time of great excitement and hope for the future of genomics and the ways it could impact medicine and lead to major improvements in our quality of life.
It has been more than a decade since those heady days of human genomics, and this seems like a good point in time to take a look and reflect on what has been accomplished since. However, it doesn't take a Ph.D. in biotechnology to conclude that in terms of therapeutic treatments, or even better understanding of many diseases, the actual impact of the decoding of the human genome has been minimal at best. It is quite possible that the main culprit for this state of affairs is the still prohibitive cost of mapping a single genome. This is an implicit premise of "The $1,000 Genome", and this book aims to explore many attempts to bring this cost down to the point where it becomes feasible to have your own genome decoded as a standard part of your medical screening. The book profiles many startups and semi-governmental efforts to improve the sequencing technology and make the personal genetic information more useful and applicable in the medical setting. However, the focus of the book is almost exclusively on the companies and the oversize egos who run them, and there is nary a word about the actual scientific/technical advances that have been developed over the course of the past ten years or so. It's like writing a book about the 1980s personal computer boom and not giving any insight into how those computers are made, what are their technical features, etc. Furthermore, there is very little critical assessment of the various companies and trends in personal genomics. This style of writing works fine for unbiased news articles, but is not the right kind of approach for an in-depth analysis of one of the most promising new technologies. Each chapter in the book is more or less unconnected to the other ones, and in this respect too this book reads like a collection of newspaper articles.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I am extremely fascinated with the new developments in biotechnology and personal medicine, and I have a strong appreciation for the industrial and entrepreneurial approaches in pushing the envelope of human knowledge. However, after reading "The $1,000 Genome" I failed to gain any overarching insight into where these developments may lead. This is a book with a lot of information on the genomics and biotech startups, but aside from the rapidly plummeting price tag of the sequencing of single human genome it offers very little to get excited about. This is unfortunate because I believe that we are on a verge of a radical change in the way that medical conditions are treated, and a good insightful book could have gone a long way in bringing the attention of the general public to this upcoming revolution.