human genome – when science catches up with science fiction


Gattaca is a film written and directed by Andrew Niccol, it tells the story of a not to distant future where the human race is obsessed with the human genome.  Crudely said, your genome determines you standing in life, the better your genome the better your career options and vice versa.

The film itself is intimate and engaging  Andre Niccol’s characters are believable and well acted and accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack that glides you through the film. But I always considered the story to be a metaphor to our society, that human spirit should not, and in this case cannot, be stifled by a rigid system. I never considered the possibility that the story could be an early warning  for a realistic future.

Until recently mapping the human genome was a long and difficult process, which made it very expensive. Consequently, very few people on the planet could say that they “know their genome”, making the pro’s and con’s discussions about human genome, really not that relevant.

But times are changing, and exceedingly fast it seems. There are several genome sequencing companies active at the moment, navigenetics, 23andme and decodeme. That offer to sequence your genome,  for varying prices of 200 to 1100 dollars, the difference in price seems to depend on how much you want to know about yourself.

This puts genome sequencing in the hands of the common man and this lowering of the threshold will help fill the data bases of the genome companies with the potential to mine the data, for better or worse. However, Gattaca does not have to become reality, says Lone frank, a science writer and author of the book “my beautiful genome”.

Only time will tell if humanity is mature enough to use this technology for the greater good. However, one thing is clear, human genome sequencing is going to become a fact of daily life  for everyone within the next 5 to 10 years, its simple a matter of time before the sequencing machines are economical enough to sit in your  doctor’s office.