Last week, bidding kicked off at $68,000 on a 10-day eBay auction whose prize includes personal genome sequencing, analysis, and interpretation services provided by Cambridge, Mass.–based genetics firm Knome, Inc. The auction's winner also participates in a roundtable discussion with Knome's geneticists, clinicians and bioinformaticians to review the winner's sequence data, not to mention a private dinner with George Church, co-Founder and Knome's chief scientific advisor.

All of that would seem to be a bargain, considering just two years ago it cost an estimated $2 million to sequence the genome of Nobel Prize winner James Watson, and Knome normally charges more than $99,000 for the service.

But with only a few days left in the auction, the bidding price remains $68,000 and Knome has received exactly zero bids. What gives?

Ari Kiirikki, Knome's vice president of sales and business development, says the lack of bids may be due to the economic downturn, or that the people who might have the money and the inclination to bid on the prize are unfamiliar with eBay, which is generally seen as a way of buying hard-to-get merchandise at a reasonable price. "The people who would spend the money on this probably don't use eBay," Kiirikki adds.

The auction is being pitched as a way to raise awareness of "whole genome sequencing," in particular the X PRIZE Foundation's Archon X PRIZE for Genomics (AGXP), a global competition that will award $10 million to the first person or team that can sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days. All of the auction's proceeds are going to the X PRIZE Foundation, which means Knome is kicking in its services gratis.

Knome and the X PRIZE Foundation agreed on the initial $68,000 bidding price because it's a discount off of its normal price for Knome's services while still being a decent donation to the X PRIZE Foundation, says Knome chief executive Jorge Conde, who adds that the work his company and the charity are doing in the area of genomics should pave the way for sequencing to make it into the mainstream.

As the deadline approaches, Kiirikki admits, "We are biting our nails." But, he adds that Kompolt Cause Media, the company running the auction, last year scored $2.1 million for San Francisco's Glide Foundation by offering a lunch with investor Warren E. Buffett via eBay. Kompolt's take on this particular auction? "They say the bids usually all come at the last minute," Kiirikki adds.

Image © Benjamin Albiach Galán