Expressing the amount of sequence in the human genome in terms of the number of printed pages has been done before. At the Broad Institute, all of the human reference genome is printed in bound volumes.
At our sequencing facility, we sequence about 1 terabases per day. This is equivalent to 167 diploid human genomes (167 × 6 gigabases). The sequencing is done using a pool of 13 Illumina HiSeq 2500 sequencers, of which about 50% are sequencing at any given time.
This sequencing is extremely fast.
To understand just how fast this is, consider printing this amount of sequence using a modern office laser printer. Let's pick the HP P3015n which costs about $400—a cheap and fast network printer. It can print at about 40 pages per minute.
If we print the sequence at 6pt Courier using 0.25" margins, each 8.5" × 11" page will accomodate 18,126 bases. I chose this font size because it's reasonably legible. To print 1 terabases we need `10^12 / 18126 = 55.2` million pages.
If we print continuously at 40 pages per minute, we need `10^12 / (18126*40*1440) = 957.8` days.
If we had 958 printers working around the clock, we could print everything we sequence and not fall behind. This does not account for time required to replenish toner or paper.
It costs us about $12,000 to sequence a terabase in reagents. If we do it on a cost-recovery basis, it is about twice that, to include labor and storage. Let's say $25,000 per terabase.
Coincidentally, this is about $150 per 1× coverage of a diploid human genome. The cost of sequencing a single genome would be significantly higher because of overhead. To overcome gaps in coverage and to be sensitive to alleles in heterogenous samples, sequencing should be done to 30× or more. For example, we sequence cancer genomes at over 100×. For theory and review see Aspects of coverage in medical DNA sequencing by Wendl et al. and Sequencing depth and coverage: key considerations in genomic analyses by Sims et al.. (Thanks to Nicolas Robine for pointing out that redundant coverage should be mentioned here).
Printing is 44× more expensive than sequencing, per base: 25 n$ vs 1.1 μ$.
I should mention that the cost of analyzing the sequenced genome should be considered—this step is always the much more expensive one. In The $1,000 genome, the $100,000 analysis? Mardis asks "If our efforts to improve the human reference sequence quality, variation, and annotation are successful, how do we avoid the pitfall of having cheap human genome resequencing but complex and expensive manual analysis to make clinical sense out of the data?"
The cost of a single printed page (toner, power, etc) is about $0.02–0.05, depending on the printer. Let's be generous and say it's $0.02. To print 55.2 million pages would cost us $1.1M. This is about 44 times as expensive as sequencing.
Think about this. It's 44× more expensive to merely print a letter on a page than it is to determine it from the DNA of a cell. In other words, to go from the physical molecule to a bit state on a disk is much cheaper than from a bit state on a disk to a representation of the letter on a page.
Per base, our sequencing costs `$25000/10^12 = $25*10^-9`, or 25 nanodollars. At $0.02 and 18,126 bp per page, printing costs `0.02/18126 = $1.1*10^-6` or 1.1 microdollars.
If at this point you're thinking that printing isn't practical, the fact that the pages would weigh 248,000 kg and stack to 5.5 km should cinch the argument.
The capital cost of sequencing is, of course, much higher. The printers themselves would cost about $400,000 to purchase. The 6 sequencers, on the other hand, cost about $3,600,000.
We sequence at a rate close to the average internet bandwidth available to the public.
At 3.86 Mb/s, we could download a terabase of compressed sequence in a day, assuming the sequence can be compressed by a factor of 3. This level of compression is reasonable—the current human assembly is 938 Mb zipped).
In other words, you would have to be downloading essentially continuously to keep up with our sequencing.
The presence of constraints in experiments, such as sample size restrictions, awkward blocking or disallowed treatment combinations may make using classical designs very difficult or impossible.
Optimal design is a powerful, general purpose alternative for high quality, statistically grounded designs under nonstandard conditions.
We discuss two types of optimal designs (D-optimal and I-optimal) and show how it can be applied to a scenario with sample size and blocking constraints.
Smucker, B., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2018) Points of significance: Optimal experimental design Nature Methods 15:599–600.
Krzywinski, M., Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Two factor designs. Nature Methods 11:1187–1188.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699–700.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments. Nature Methods 11:597–598.
An illustration of the Tree of Life, showing some of the key branches.
The tree is drawn as a DNA double helix, with bases colored to encode ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms on the tree.
All living things on earth descended from a single organism called LUCA (last universal common ancestor) and inherited LUCA’s genetic code for basic biological functions, such as translating DNA and creating proteins. Constant genetic mutations shuffled and altered this inheritance and added new genetic material—a process that created the diversity of life we see today. The “tree of life” organizes all organisms based on the extent of shuffling and alteration between them. The full tree has millions of branches and every living organism has its own place at one of the leaves in the tree. The simplified tree shown here depicts all three kingdoms of life: bacteria, archaebacteria and eukaryota. For some organisms a grey bar shows when they first appeared in the tree in millions of years (Ma). The double helix winding around the tree encodes highly conserved ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms.
Johnson, H.L. (2018) The Whole Earth Cataloguer, Sactown, Jun/Jul, p. 89
An article about keyboard layouts and the history and persistence of QWERTY.
McDonald, T. (2018) Why we can't give up this odd way of typing, BBC, 25 May 2018.
I've previously taken a more fine-art approach to cover design, such for those of Nature, Genome Research and Trends in Genetics. I've used microscopy images to create a cover for PNAS—the one that made biology look like astrophysics—and thought that this is kind of material I'd start with for the MCS cover.