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Biotech IBM Medicine Privacy

IBM Researchers Working Toward Cheap, Fast DNA Reader 90

Posted by timothy
from the reminds-me-of-creepy-ibm-ads dept.
nk497 writes "IBM scientists are working on ambitious research where nano-sized holes will be drilled into computer chips and DNA passed through to create a 'genetic code reader.' A DNA molecule would be passed through a hole just three nanometers wide, while an electrical sensor 'reads' the DNA. The challenge of the silicon-based 'DNA Transistor' would be to slow and control the motion of the DNA through the hole so the reader could decode what is inside it. IBM claimed that if the project was successful it could make personalised genome analysis as cheap as $100 to $1,000, and compared it to the first-ever sequencing done for the Human Genome Project, which cost $3 billion."
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IBM Researchers Working Toward Cheap, Fast DNA Reader

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  • Re:Cynicism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lloyd_Bryant (73136) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:06PM (#29658211)

    Why is it that multibillion dollar companies are constantly researching exciting new tech that makes it more and more impossible for us to remain annonymous? Just once, I want to see IBM or somebody backing Tor or Freenet or something similar.

    Please remember that IBM is, like most corporations, a for-profit entity. Which means that the vast majority of their research is going to be aimed at projects that will allow them to make a buck.

    In short - Tor and Freenet don't spend gazillions of dollars on technologies, while governments do.

  • Other uses (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NoYob (1630681) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:09PM (#29658249)

    âoeUltimately it could improve the quality of medical care by identifying patients who will gain the greatest benefit from a particular medicine and those who are at most at risk of adverse reaction,â he added.

    Insurance companies will use it to deny health insurance outright or label any diseases that this thing finds as "pre-existing conditions".

    Travelers to the US will have to stick their fingers and give a DNA sample along with their finger prints and photo.

    Government will use for the "war on [insert buzzword here]"

    Genetic propensity for mental illness, well, we'll have to keep an eye on you! Especially, if there is some sort of genetic predisposition towards pedophilia - think of the children!

    Have to take this DNA test as part of our drug screening. Predisposition towards alcoholism or any other disease or disorder that will send our health care costs through the roof? Well, you don't have the necessary "skills" for this job. Sorry, best of luck finding another job. (Yeah, good luck in proving that we violated the ADA or EEOC!)

    nothing but good (TM) can come of this!

    It's interesting. While editing this post, my cursor stays as a pointer on the right side of the entry field. To edit, I had to click to the left and then use the arrow keys to get to the right. Any spelling errors left are Slashdot's fault so flame them.

  • I Smell Synergy! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:14PM (#29658321) Journal
    High speed, computer-assisted, genetic analysis technology should go beautifully with IBM's existing expertise in Data-driven eugenics solutions... [wikipedia.org]
  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:15PM (#29658327)
    Sounds even easier to bypass than cutting off a finger. Perhaps this will usher in a golden age of sperm-jacking and blood-letting?
  • Re:Other uses (Score:1, Insightful)

    by NoYob (1630681) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:17PM (#29658355)

    Insurance companies will use it to deny health insurance outright or label any diseases that this thing finds as "pre-existing conditions".

    There is already a law banning them from doing this.

    Yeah, so? If they do it, exactly how do you prove it? And even then if you do prove it by some miracle , all the insurance has to do is say, "Oops, it was an error. We are investigating and we'll correct the problem." They pay a small fine and on they go.

  • Re:Other uses (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Taibhsear (1286214) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:21PM (#29658413)

    You prove it by the piece of paper that tells you your health benefits was denied because of a pre-existing condition. Your records will show if you've had treatment for it or not. It's not a conspiracy/finger pointing kind of thing. Proof is easily come by.

  • Re:Cynicism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Laxitive (10360) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @12:39PM (#29658631) Journal

    If you think that fast and cheap DNA reading applies only (or even mostly) to monitoring of individuals, you do not have a real grasp of the scope and applicability of DNA sequencing.

    There are enormous resources in scientific research that goes toward generating datasets. Sequencing of humans is a significant part of it, but most of that applies to medicinal uses, such as cancer genotyping (which uses sequencing to identify specifically the genotypic characteristics of a particular tumor colony so it can be treated much more effectively than just trying to guess by looking at it "from the outside"). Also, a huge new area in medicine is going to be "personalized" medicine. Medicine that's actually tailored to the specific genetic traits that YOU have, so that the chances of side-effects are reduced and effectiveness is increased.

    Then there are the thousands of researchers that need to collect sequence datasets on organisms that have NOTHING to do with humans. A big chunk of this is plant genetics: crop stress tolerance (e.g. make wheat grow more reliably in colder or dryer climates, or resist disease better), natural product optimization (e.g. make canola plants produce 10% more of the kinds of oils you care about, and less of the crap you don't). Another big chunk of this research is basic science: figuring out the specific details of how evolution has progressed, or to identify the core biological processes that make organisms tick. That's core evolutionary biology and biomechanics research.

    Then there's the people trying to do constructive genomics: actually build organisms that do specific things. Like modifying yeast to produce some complex bioproduct that requires a network of potentially hundreds of genes. Or creating organisms that filter waste from water. Or building algae variants that run on sunlight and produce oil.

    All of these things could desperately use robust, cheap, accessible sequencing platforms. Genetic sequencing is not all about your privacy. It's a platform which has the scope to save scientists and researchers millions, and put that towards more research and better results than towards trying to scrape out a few bases from a tissue sample.

    IBM is trying big time to get into the life sciences (that's wrong actually, they actually already HAVE products they market to the life sciences, like systems for large-scale data processing). It is worth billions to them, and they want to tap it.

    -Laxitive

  • Re:Cynicism (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @01:02PM (#29659001)

    At $100 for a reader, who is to say they cant screen job applicants to see if they will have future medical issues and deny them a job (and health insurance).

    Who is to say medical insurance wouldnt require such a test, to flag any possible "pre-existing conditions"

    Gattaca [imdb.com], here we come

  • Re:Cynicism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @01:38PM (#29659701)
    I completely agree that the technology can be used for awesome and amazing things. I just have a feeling that most of the things it's going to be used for are things that aren't going to benefit humanity in such lofty ways.
  • It's about time. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @01:46PM (#29659865) Homepage

    It's about time someone did this. People have been talking about real nanotechnology for about two decades. Most of what's now called "nanotechnology" is surface chemistry of finely divided powders, or simple self-assembling structures like carbon nanotubes. Real nanotechnology, useful mechanisms made of deliberately placed individual atoms, hasn't been happening much. A DNA reader is one of the few applications where building a very small number of devices at the atomic scale is useful. You don't need self-replicating assemblers turning out vast numbers of nanomachines. Small numbers of devices can be created, slowly, with STM-type devices.

    At least readers are safe. DNA writers are going to be an issue.

  • by trb (8509) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @02:15PM (#29660371)
    the first-ever sequencing done for the Human Genome Project, which cost $3 billion.

    And it cost $15 billion for the first person to drive into Boston after the Big Dig. [wikipedia.org] That's creative accounting. [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Other uses (Score:1, Insightful)

    by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @02:30PM (#29660629)

    >Insurance companies will use it to deny health insurance outright or label any diseases that this thing finds as "pre-existing conditions".

    Sounds like all the more reason to support healthcare reform and to shut people up who equate it with Nazi Germany, or whatever the right complains about in public.

  • Re:Cynicism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday October 06, 2009 @02:30PM (#29660637)

    I completely agree that the technology can be used for awesome and amazing things. I just have a feeling that most of the things it's going to be used for are things that aren't going to benefit humanity in such lofty ways.

    That second part is true of every single technology ever invented. The first sharpened stick man ever made may have been used to kill food, but the second one was probably used to kill another dude and steal his woman.

    Tor isn't a holy technology that can only be used in good ways either. I'm guessing 5 seconds after it was finished, someone said something like "Think of the children! This will be used to transmit child porn." You probably scoff at that objection and, and rightfully so, but that's exactly our reaction to your objection to the DNA reader.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]

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