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Head To Head

Should we sequence everyone’s genome? Yes

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 21 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3133
  1. John Burn, professor
  1. 1Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3BZ, UK
  1. john.burn{at}

As technological prowess soars and costs plummet, is the era of personalised medicine now in sight? John Burn says sequencing everyone’s genome would give us unparalleled knowledge to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease, but Frances Flinter (doi:10.1136/bmj.f3132) thinks there are serious ethical implications

We should all have our genomes sequenced. In 1986 our 5 year old son planted a conker in our back yard. He explained that he wanted a tree house so needed a tree. The tree is now ready to receive boarders, though they will be from our family’s next generation. The Human Genome Project began at about the same time with similar high aspirations: to deliver personalised medicine to generations to come.

That time is now upon us. The cost of gene sequencing has fallen 10 000-fold in a decade, with another drop by an order of magnitude expected soon. Setting aside the considerable but surmountable challenges associated with large segments being duplicated or deleted and stretches of hard to sequence repeats, we can have a whole genome for the price of a family package holiday. Even now, bulk sequencing all 20 000 “genes,” the exome, costs less than £500 (€590; $770).

The Human Genome Project depended on British discovery, particularly the work of the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute. No one can match our capacity to do “genetic medicine” in a …

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