The Language of Genomics

Right now, a genome is akin to a novel written in an unknown language: a huge amount of information that we can’t understand. On the other hand, we have started recognizing some words – specific genes – that seem to correspond to certain incidents in history, which, in the case of genetics, are diseases and conditions.

DALIAN, CHINA – Last week, a company called Complete Genomics announced 10 new customers for its genome-sequencing service. The price was not specified, but the company said its goal is to offer the service for $5,000 within a year.

What struck me was not the announcement itself, but the name of the CEO: Cliff Reid, the CEO when I knew him in the 1980’s of a text-search company called Verity. The connection hit me almost immediately. Genes are, in a sense, the instruction language for building humans (or any other living thing). And language is symbols that interact to build meaning. And, yes, of course, it was the same Cliff Reid I knew back in the late 1980’s.

What Complete Genomics is doing with the $91 million it has raised so far is exciting. It has built a genome-sequencing factory and plans to build several more over the next few years. Many academic and commercial research facilities want one, as do several countries.

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