When I first started working in science, sequencing was just beginning to be a 'kit' science, where anyone could buy a kit and sequence. It was long ago enough for us to wonder at it, knowing that in the early days it took experienced scientists a long time to sequence anything through elaborate chemical means. Back then, any sequence was a big science paper.
Then Sanger worked his magic and things started to take off. Soon it became possible for a grad student to sequence a gene during their thesis work. Sequencing no longer became special but was required to publish a genetics paper.
In my time...
When I was a grad student, I had my own DNA synthesizer on my bench (well, it was the labs, but I used it a lot). The machine was able to make short stretches of single stranded DNA (10-30 based pairs). While we used it for studying the very DNA we made, others started using such machines to make DNA synthesis primers for sequencing.
Now a tech could sequence a gene in a few weeks.
Then automated sequencing machines appeared that allowed you to easily read long stretches of sequence, straight into a digital format. These machines were expensive, so either there was core facility or company with a bunch of tech managing the machines.
By the time I was a post-doc, you just had mix sample and DNA primer (also ordered over the Web), send it off, and get an email with all your sequences. It was fast and easy for what I was doing and I was able to sequence my clones in one go. Such sequence by mail was instrumental in me being able to focus on my core protein biochemistry work.
While many of us were 'walking' down the chromosomes (current sequence suggesting primers for the next run), a clever man, Craig Venter, just started blasting the genomes apart, randomly sequencing it all, and letting the computers stitching it all together (called 'shotgun sequnecing'). He started with small viral genomes and just kept going for bigger and bigger genomes such that in the end it took him some 3 years (if I recall) to do the entire human genome.
Of course, the Human Genome Project guys who were toiling away for 15 years or more, were upset at the risk of being scooped. So, they had a sit-down with Venter (a REAL maverick) and agreed to reveal the sequences at the same time. BTW, this is the 2nd thing Venter should get the Nobel for.
And we're off!
Now in the post-genomic world, we're sequencing whatever we can get our hands on (see funny quote bellow). Genotyping is now a $400 service (it's not full genome sequencing, but powerful nonetheless). And Venter, for his 3rd Nobel, sailed off on his yacht, sucking up sea-water and sequencing all the microorganisms in it.
The writer below expresses her wonder at how things have changed in such a short period of time.
I have to agree.
“Taste good, sequence it” and “Look cute, sequence it.”
Obviously there are good scientific reasons for both of these projects. But can you believe we live in a time where you literally could just sequence something’s genome because it was tasty or cuddly?!
Image from wikipedia