A $10 million prize is on offer for the first laboratory to accurately and economically sequence the genomes of 100 people over 100 years old. The Archon Genomics X Prize was originally founded in 2006 and has been modified so that entrants will now race to decode centenarians' DNA.
It is hoped that the prize will incentivise advances in genome sequencing and play a part in ushering in an era of affordable personalised medicine where patients' individual genetic make-up is taken into account when planning their healthcare. The fact that teams will be sequencing DNA donated by centenarians reflects an ongoing search to understand the genetic factors that contribute to longevity.
Dr Craig Venter, who led the work that sequenced a six-billion letter human genome for the first time (the DNA was his own), is a co-chair of the competition. He said: 'While many new technologies have been developed over the last decade and many human genomes have been sequenced, there is still no technology that can produce a highly accurate, reproducible human genome usable for diagnostics and medical treatment. For genomics to truly impact health and diagnostic decisions for all of us, we need these technologies'.
Talking to C-Net, Dr Venter also commented on the search for genes that contribute to wellness and longevity. 'We want to know what the other gene sets are — not the ones associated with disease', he said. 'The cliché is that people look under their lamp posts for lost keys because that's where they can see, but now we have the tools to see everywhere else'.
The $10 million prize will be given to the first team that accurately sequences the whole genome of all 100 subjects within 30 days for $1,000 or less per genome. Teams will receive the 100 genomes to be sequenced on 3 January 2013 and the competition closes one month later.
The Archon Genomics prize is one of several X Prizes on offer in different fields. Previous competitions include the Ansari X Prize to encourage the private spaceflight industry, which was awarded in 2004.
A promotional video on the X Prize Foundation's website explains the rationale: 'Humans are wired to compete, it pushes us beyond our limits and makes the impossible possible from the four minute mile to private space flight. We can focus the best minds, create heroes, drive innovation, make a significant difference and change the world'.