Craig Venter, creator of rapid DNA sequencing technology, has reportedly told Scientific American that he and two partners will award $10 million to the first team that can meet “medical grade” accuracy in human genome sequencing, a factor that has been lacking since the technology was first developed in 2000. With contributions from X-Prize Foundation, Medco Health Systems and his own Venter Institute, Venter says the prize aims to propel the preventivemedicine technology by sequencing the genomes of 100 centenarians.
“The technology is changing pretty rapidly, which is a good thing,” Venter told the magazine in a question-and-answer interview. “But right now there’s no technology out there that meets the standards that we’ve set. If genome sequencing is going to have true medical impact, it needs to get up to [a higher] diagnostic quality level. And we’re a long way from that.”
Although costs of the technology have decreased, accuracy has not improved, Venter said. By sequencing the genomes of people who are at least 100 years old, contestants might discover a trait common among them, such as “wellness genes that would protect you from cancer if you were genetically predisposed to getting it,” Venter noted. “You’re not going to get a definitive answer just by looking at 100 genomes [of ordinary people]. Centenarians [present] a more interesting group than most because it emphasizes the wellness aspect rather than the illness aspect.”
The prize, he said, “becomes the truth serum for all the claims from all these companies and all these technologies. Without an independent test, there is no ability to sort out the claims, and there are some pretty wild ones out there. The hope is there will be one or several winners out there. For guys and gals working in their garages, [the $10-million prize] is a strong incentive.” See Scientific American, October 26, 2011.