IBM's Killer Idea: The $100 DNA-Sequencing Machine

More

We asked IBM for its smartest new innovation. This is what they gave us.

The problem: Learning to sequence DNA fast and cheap might be the most important challenge in health technology. Understanding each patient's full genetic sequencing would give doctors X-Ray vision into their patients' unique makeup and future diseases. There's one big catch. Gene sequencing costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Where great ideas really come from. A special report

The idea: IBM wants to build a "DNA Transistor" that would be the world's cheapest genetic reader. Scientists refer to the idea as the "$1,000 genome." But IBM says they might be able to get the cost of sequencing down to $100.

Remember the View-Master you played with as a kid? That red binocular-shaped device that let you click-click-click through 3D images? Well, this would work sort of like a DNA View-Master on the smallest conceivable level. Scientists drill a nano-sized hole -- 3,000 times slimmer than a human hair -- through a silicon computer chip and thread a DNA strands through it. "As the molecule is passed through the nanopore, it is ratcheted one unit of DNA at a time," IBM said. Click, click, click, and the long sequence of DNA would be sequenced.

The potential: If doctors could know and use the full genetic sequence of every patient, the potential would be enormous. It would turn doctors into little prophets. Diseases and disorders could be caught and diagnosed early. Medicine could be radically personalized. Doctors would be working with a kind of super-X-Ray into the latent and not-so-latent illnesses of their patients.

Want to share your company's best idea -- or your own! -- for our Best Ideas series? Leave your idea in the comment section or email me a description and a photograph at dthompson@theatlantic.com.

___

The Best Ideas Series

IBM: The $100 Genome Sequence Machine

GE: A Real-Time Energy Dashboard For Your House

Google: A Personal Translator on Your Phone

Facebook: A Social Solution to Password Security

Under Armour: The World's Smartest Shirt

Siemens: The World's 1st Hybrid Electric Airplane

Genentech: Chemotherapy Without Side-Effects

PARC: A Better, Faster, Stronger Internet

Andreessen Horowitz: A Camera That Focuses After You Click

Duke University: A Cancer Flashlight

>

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In