Illumina says it can sequence a gene for $1,000 -- 23 and Me offers genetic testing for $99


A couple of weeks ago, Illumina announced that it broke the "sound barrier of human genomics" -- issuing a press release touting its new HiSeq X Ten system which claims an operating cost of less than $1,000 for a complete human genome sequence.

Not so fast, say critics. The cost is really more like $2,000 per sample because of the costs of the chemical reagents used to prepare the samples run upwards of $800 per test and the human cost to have an actual human do the preparation of the library samples is far above the claimed $65 each run.

Illumina has fired the first shot in an arm's race. A few days ago, a Japanese company announced that it will market next year a testing device that can sequence a gene for even less than the claimed $1,000 per test because it uses a different methodology that eliminates the need for the expensive reagents.

With a cheaper cost for each test, large-scale testing is possible and the more data that is available to researchers, the better the results are from population studies.

This seems to be the motivation for 23andMe's huge marketing push. They wanted to build a database of genetic data about as many people as possible, aiming for 1 million people by the end of 2013. As CEO Anne Wojicicki said in an interview with Fast Company magazine, "I want 25 million people. Once you get 25 million people, there's just a huge power of what types of discoveries you can make. Big data is going to make us all healthier."

It also puts 23andMe's claims in sharp relief. If Illumina -- the same company that makes the panels used by 23andMe's lab for the PGS sampling -- can't really offer gene sequencing for less than $2,000, what exactly is 23andMe actually offering? Is it anything close to a test that can support their claims to tell you how to live smarter, healthier, and longer?