Tuesday 15 March: 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Mill Lane Lecture Rooms , 8 Mill Lane, CB2 1RW
Ewan Birney FRS FMedSci, Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, explores how genomics and big data – from DNA sequence to high-resolution imaging – present both opportunities and challenges for healthcare.
We have been living through a revolution. The price of DNA sequencing and other high-throughput technologies has dropped like a stone over the past ten years, transforming molecular biology and opening the field for radical innovation. Combined with technologies that enable ordinary people to continuously monitor their bodies – and their doctors to provide glimpses of their internal workings – our approach to understanding the processes of life has changed radically.
Technologies like MRI scans, FitBits and Apple Watches have empowered us to monitor and measure ourselves (and the organisms in and around us) easily and routinely. Genome sequencing is more accessible than ever to those who are curious about their ancestry. The result of all of this is the generation of far more data on individual humans, animals, plants and even environments that is potentially useful for both research and healthcare. For example, the NHS-led 100,000 Genomes Project will generate and study an unprecedentedly massive dataset – the genomes of 100,000 people, at 3 billion base pairs apiece – to pick apart rare diseases and cancer. Another example is infectious epidemiology: scientists recently used portable DNA sequencers to track the Ebola virus in the field in western Africa.
Big-data challenges in biology and healthcare range from common issues like storage and streaming to deeply complex, intellectual matters like identifying factors that predict a disease, and interpreting that information accurately. I have been involved in this transformation for the past 20 years, growing up with the relatively new field of bioinformatics – where computer and life sciences meet.
My talk will touch on the story of genomics so far, drawing parallels with game-changing technologies such as X-rays and their adoption in the 19th Century. I will explore recent innovations and the opportunities and challenges they present, and discuss their potential impact on society.