A new method of sequencing a person’s genome costs only $100, which might lead to a vast increase in personalized medicine and screening for diseases.

China’s BGI Group says its new system — using a robotic arm and a roomful of chemical baths and imaging machines — is so cheap and fast that it is capable of decoding the genomes of 100,000 people a year. A decade ago, decoding someone’s genome — or determining the order of the four chemical building blocks that make up the DNA molecule — cost about $50,000. Today, the cost is about $600, mostly for the chemicals used.

“I want to drive this to unlimited sequencing, of billions of people,” said Rade Drmanac, chief scientific officer of Complete Genomics, a division of BGI Group in San Jose, California, that developed the new technology.

Lowering the cost of genome-sequencing could bring a wide range of benefits through personalized medicine. People who know they are at higher risk for a genetically caused disease might schedule more screenings, for instance, or make better-informed reproductive decisions. Specific medicines, diets or exercise plans may be chosen based on a person’s metabolism. Also, data from the sequencing of a mass group of people may help researchers better understand diseases and could lead to new treatments.

Gene sequencing has, however, led to concerns that someday people may be discriminated against by employers or insurers based on the likelihood that they might develop a disease in the future, according to Personal Genetics Education Project.

BGI’s cost undercuts the prices charged by San Diego-based Illumina, which has dominated the gene-sequencing market for more than a decade. The stakes are high: The DNA testing market is expected to reach $15.9 billion by 2025 from $4.15 billion in 2016.

Drmanac introduced the $100 system this week at the annual Advances in Genome Biology and Technology Conference in Florida.

The system is “a clever way to minimize the waste of expensive reagents,” Keith Robison, a genomics blogger and authority on next-gen sequencing platforms, told Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

  • Gene sequencing also may bring great benefits to wildlife, writes Catherine Cullingham, an assistant professor in plant population genetics at Carleton University. For instance, she said, researchers could use testing to identify gopher tortoises that are resistant to infectious upper respiratory tract disease and include them in breeding programs for this endangered species.