Genomics: what is realistically achievable?

Overbeek R

We now have a large and growing number of sequenced genomes. It is widely understood that this presents research opportunities and promises to change the way biology advances, but the magnitude and nature of the opportunities is, for the most part, poorly understood. In this short piece, I wish to examine the following two questions: First, how quickly will sequence data be produced? Second, what impact will this have on our understanding of the sequenced organisms?

Since I am a computer scientist by training, I tend to think of the current situation in which the field of genomics is being driven forward by rapid technological advances as quite analogous to the sequence of events in computing that were triggered by advances in microcomputer and network technologies. I distinctly remember the early period in which it seemed clear to most computer scientists (including myself) that technical advances were very desirable and interesting, but could have little impact on either the fundamental research issues or the overall advance of the field. Most of us completely underestimated the impact of exponential price improvements in key-enabling technologies. Certainly no one that I know of foresaw in any detail the current world of computing (although a few had rare insights into the potential). As we face the world generated by the web, we should remember that as late as the early 1990s common wisdom indicated that 'movies on demand' would be the application that drove increased network bandwidth.

Genome Biol. 2000; 1(2): comment2002.1–comment2002.3.
Published online 2000 Jul 28. doi:  10.1186/gb-2000-1-2-comment2002