The genomics industry has a PR problem and it’s largely a self-made one. When I read articles about the latest in physics research and The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, I read about how the collider will be used to find new particles that will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe. The fact that it produces 15 petabytes (10^15) of data a year is just an interesting side note. Juxtaposition that with mainstream media coverage of genomics and next generation sequencing, as highlighted by Andrew Pollack at the NY Times in an article titled “Deluge of Data”. Instead of focusing on the actual scientific application of this truly revolutionary technology, the focus is instead on how many hard drives are needed to hold the terabytes (10^12) of data generated.
For years preceding the completion of the Human Genome Project, genome researchers were trumpeting the revolutionary breakthroughs, discoveries, and treatments that would result from this work. When this failed to immediately materialize, due to a gross underestimation of the true complexity of the human body and disease - investors, media, and the general public quickly lost interest. Fast forward 10 years, and it appears that the genomics industry is gun shy choosing to talk about their tools and not how an Ashkenazi Jewish rabbi has to tell two in-love members of his synagogue that they can’t marry because genetic testing says they are both carriers for canavan disease.
From my position here at GenomeQuest, I have been fortunate to work with leading edge customers in the clinical space who are using next generation sequencing for disease diagnostics today, not tomorrow and not after “we figure out how to deal with the data”. It’s great to tell stories about terabytes and petabytes of data, but until we can translate that into treatments and prescriptions it remains a distant pipe dream in the public’s eyes. After all, isn’t that why we build these tools? Not to talk about how much data they can churn out but how they can be used to affect people’s everyday lives.