The Human Genome Project con­cluded in 2003, but many of its ben­e­fits are only now being real­ized, according to Alan Guttmacher, director of the National Insti­tutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Insti­tute of Child Health and Human Development.

A decade ago it cost $100 mil­lion to sequence a single genome, Guttmacher told a score of North­eastern stu­dents and researchers at a recent lec­ture hosted by the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and the Office of Gov­ern­ment Rela­tions. If sci­en­tists wanted to uncover any one disease-​​related gene, he said, the effort would have set them back a stag­gering $10 billion.

But then some won­derful things hap­pened,” Guttmacher said, explaining that new tools and tech­nolo­gies have reduced the cost of genome sequencing to about $10,000—a price that con­tinues to fall.

This, Guttmacher said, is a human health game-​​changer: We now know that all of the major causes of mor­tality among Amer­i­cans have genetic under­pin­nings and sci­en­tists have even man­aged to iden­tify the spe­cific genes respon­sible for some of them.

But there is more work to be done. The market’s 21,000 FDA approved drugs target just 2.5 per­cent of the total human genome, Guttmacher said, and the vast majority of our DNA remains an unex­plored ter­ri­tory ripe for investigation.

Guttmacher, a former pedi­a­tri­cian, went on to note that the idea of sequencing every individual’s genome at birth is begin­ning to look like a rea­son­able enter­prise. This pos­si­bility is dic­tating much of NICD’s future endeavors. For example, the revamped National Children’s Study, announced ear­lier this month, seeks to under­stand how genetics and the envi­ron­ment interact to cause health and dis­ease. The effort will rely heavily on genome sequencing.

Another NICHD ini­tia­tive, the Human Pla­centa Project, aims to strip away the mys­tery sur­rounding the most poorly under­stood human organ within the next 10 years. We know the pla­centa is impor­tant for fetal growth and devel­op­ment, Guttmacher said, but it’s begin­ning to look like it’s also impor­tant to the individual’s life­long health and well­being as well as that of the mother.

But the new inves­ti­ga­tions enabled by genome sequencing also demand new tools and tech­nolo­gies. “The way we con­duct sci­ence needs to evolve if we’re to be suc­cessful,” said Guttmacher. For instance, we need a new model for data sharing that sup­ports open col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and a new par­a­digm for trans­dis­ci­pli­nary research, which rewards inves­ti­ga­tors for working together rather than penal­izing them. As researchers develop new tools for their own work, they need to be made avail­able to others so sci­en­tists can spend their time con­ducting research rather than preparing to con­duct research.

The lec­ture dove­tails with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity, and sus­tain­ability. In meet­ings fol­lowing the talk, Guttmacher met with sev­eral of the university’s fac­ulty mem­bers, many of whom are already tack­ling the issues he sees as crit­ical to the future of science.