DNA sequencing has been pivotal in mapping our genetic blueprint. Advanced sequencing methods will boost its applications in biotechnology, medicine, forensic sciences and oncology research; playing an important part in re-shaping our future.
“Your honor, his DNA was found at the crime scene”, concluded the attorney.Such statements are a staple of crime drama on television, in which the police catches the perpetrator by matching his DNA to samples obtained from the murder location. Such fictionalized depictions areobviously inspired from real life situations, where law enforcement physicians use a novel method known as DNA sequencing to match two sets of DNA obtained from different locations. The applications of DNA sequencing goes further than just forensics, well into the forefront of medical and biological research. Recent advancements in DNA sequencing techniques has not only accelerated such research but has also pushed the boundaries of its application. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the Global DNA Sequencing Market was valued at $5 billion in 2016 and expected to reach $18 billion by 2023, registering a CAGR of 19.6% from 2017 to 2023.
What exactly is DNA Sequencing?
First developed in the early 1970’s, DNA sequencing is the process of determining the precise order of the four nucleotide bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) within a DNA strand or molecule. The precise order of these bases is crucial in decoding the structure behind an individual’s traits and identity. Imagine your physical characteristics being defined as a million page long code of just four alphabets – A, G, C and T. Sequencing DNA is also the first step in genome sequencing, where the entire genetic markup of an individual is decoded. Such unusually large sequenced data stores crucial information on genetic variations and mutations, and could be vital in differentiation and segregation of an individual from the rest of his species. The low cost, high accuracy and precise results of DNA sequencing helped it become the standardized method of mapping one’s genetic blueprint, replacing conventional tools of genomics like microarray and genotyping.
Advancement in DNA sequencing techniques
The most commonly used DNA sequencing method stems from the research of British biochemist Frederick Sanger. Based on chain termination method, so called Sanger sequencing prevailed for nearly two decades from 1980’s to 2000’s due to its simplicity and reliability. Since the turn of the millennia, however, radically different approaches has led to more efficient and cheaper DNA sequencing techniques. Aided by computational advancements, new methods like Ion Torrent sequencing, Pyrosequencing, Nanopore sequencing and Sequencing by Synthesis provides greater than 99% accuracy and reads more than a million base pairs in a couple of hours’ time. Owing to its relatively cheaper run cost, Sequencing by Synthesis dominates the market today as the most widely used DNA sequencing method. As the demand for more sequenced data increases, driven by clinical and scientific research, the market sees an emergence of new methods that claims to be cheaper, efficient and faster than its predecessors. From single molecule sequencing claiming to make a $1000 genome to a recent method to synthesize DNA developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, more techniques pop up every year owing to high market requirements.
Surge in applications utilizing DNA sequencing
As mentioned earlier, DNA sequencing methods are prominent in forensic sciences to assist criminal investigations. The advancement of such methods has led to a vast database of DNA information available at a cheaper price – encouraging numerous biological and scientific communities to utilize the data for analysis. DNA sequencing has been instrumental in precision medicine and oncology studies, where the genetic markup of a human being is used to target personalized treatment to them. Having a knowledge of the genetic mutations of an individual will also help oncologists to understand and predict how a cancerous tumor will mutate in an individual. Biomarkers are fundamental in understanding how specific diseases affect specific people; and DNA sequencing methods that provide information about an individual’s genetics may be crucial in their discovery over time.
In the field of agriculture, mapping and sequencing the whole genome of microorganisms has assisted agriculturists in developing genetically modified plants that are resistant to the effects of such bacteria’s. Nature conversationalists are also seeking the aid of DNA sequencing to better understand the impact of environmental changes on various endangered species. Scientists at the Centre for Cellular Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, have recently decoded the whole genome of the Royal Bengal tiger, India’s national animal. The genetic blueprint of the species can not only shed light on its natural history and biology but also provide detailed information on its current adaptability to global warming and human induced habitat change.
Ethical usage of DNA sequenced data
As DNA sequenced data holds vital information regarding the genetic markup of an individual, its highly important to securely store and ethically use them. If such data gets compromised, it could be misused for sinister purposes that could lead to a breakdown of DNA sequencing studies in general. In order to safeguard these data, the use of Blockchain technologies can be implemented. Blockchain works on shared ledger that’s protected using cryptography. In India, the government has recently struck up a partnership with a German genomics firm, Shivom, to record 50 million DNA data in its Blockchain servers. Such computational revolution in the field of genomics will be enormous as it will ultimately lead to lower sequencing costs as more genomes are analyzed.
As more applications that utilize DNA sequencing becomes prevalent, its cost will significantly lower. This could further aid the growth in the number of genome mapping programs worldwide. New technologies like Blockchain can use used for protecting the information stored in these data, confirming ethical security. As cases of cancer grows worldwide, bio marker discovery and oncology will see a significant growth in DNA sequencing applications. As DNA sequencing increases its hold in numerous essential fields, it could hold the key to ensure our existence on this planet.