And? What have we gotten from all this data? What diseases have we cured or diagnosed? What ground breaking discoveries have been made? What improvement in the human condition at all has rapid genome sequencing given us? Yes, of course, the ability to quickly learn that our ancestors came primarily from Eastern Europe, most likely, maybe, probably, ooh whatever I know they did. Of course I am being cagey here as WGS is not needed to do this sort of thing but the point is still a valid one I believe. Also the ability to rapidly sequence genomes has nothing to do with bioinformatics and everything to do with improvements in instrumentation, sequencing chemistries, and automation. The Bioinformatics piece is important but had and still has zero impact on the ability of the “lone lab tech” you speak of to sequence a genome quickly. Also, that lone lab tech still needs a small army of behind the scenes assistants to do what you imply is a cake walk.

In my own field of microbiology whole genome sequencing of bacteria has improved our understanding of bacterial taxonomy, aided in identification and tracking of disease outbreaks, and may someday allow for the simultaneous detection and identification of bacterial pathogens. While these are certainly good things they are hardly groundbreaking discoveries or applications. In both macro and micro biology whole genome sequencing has been something of a bust. Costs keep coming down and turn around times getting faster (though this trend seems to be ending and perhaps even reversing) but the usefulness of the data continues to disappoint.

As to synthetic biology, it reminds of AI in so many ways. The one major difference being there is actually a synthetic biology unlike AI which does not (yet) exist and may never. The hype level is similar, the destructive and/or save the world powers are just as huge, and it is as scary or as exciting as AI. I predict synthetic bio will be just about as impactful as whole genome sequencing, that is to say, not very. Like most new things in biotech we will soon learn that just because we can do something seemingly amazing (create life from scratch!) does not mean we can do it well or that the something we can do will be in any way useful.

Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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