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The graphic above shows the rapidly decreasing cost of sequencing a human genome. (Graphic: National Institutes of Health National Genome Research Institute)
A team led by Stanford electrical engineers has compressed a completely sequenced human genome to just 2.5 megabytes – small enough to attach to an email. The engineers used what is known as reference-based compression, relying on a human genome sequence that is already known and available. Their compression has improved on the previous record by 37 percent. The genome the team compressed was that of James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA more than 60 years ago.
“On the surface, this might not seem like a problem for electrical engineers,” said Tsachy Weissman, an associate professor of Electrical Engineering. “But our work in information theory is guiding the development of new and improved ways to model and compress the incredibly voluminous genomic data the world is amassing.”
Backgrounds: Genomic data compression is necessary for efficient storage, of course, but also for swiftly transferring and communicating data for various post-sequencing applications and analysis that will divine from the genetic information what diseases a person might be suffering from, is susceptible to or is in the process of developing. The analysis also helps determine what therapies and medications might best be suited to a particular person at a particular juncture in time. These are the promises of personalized medicine that effective genomic data compression would enable.
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