The X Prize Foundation is offering a $10 million prize to the reseach team that excels at fast, accurate and cheap genetic sequencing.
On Wednesday, the California-based organization, which uses big cash prizes to motivate technological achievement, announced the competition.
The top prize will be awarded to a research team that can accurately sequence the genetic code of 100 centenarians within 30 days, and do it for $1,000 or less per person
In the past, the X Prize Foundation has sponsored competitions in space exploration and fuel-efficient motor vehicles. Now, it has turned its focus to medical technology.
"The primary goal of this prize is to really get to a point where whole-genomic sequencing has real medical application," says Grant Campany, senior director for the $10 million Archon Genomics X Prize.
Human genome sequencing has become better, faster, and cheaper since it was first achieved a decade ago. But results can be inconsistent from one lab to the next. Consequently, Campany says, it's currently more suitable for research than for diagnosing and treating patients.
"A key goal of this prize is to really set a standard for what quality is for whole-genomic sequencing and finally prove to the world that these technologies are truly capable of achieving a quality standard that would have potentially medical applications."
Teams entering the competition will separately work on genetic samples from the same 100 individuals, each of them over 100 years old. When the individual results are combined, X Prize Foundation organizers hope for what they call a "medical-grade" genome that may shed new light on why some people can live for a century in generally good health.
"What we're trying to isolate here is the real genetic reason for these individuals being able to live long lives and evade diseases that impair or kill millions of people much earlier in life," says Campany.
The X Prize Foundation is actively looking for people willing to contribute their DNA to the competition. They want a diverse group of healthy people 100 years old, or preferably older. The competition begins in January 2013.