"Certainly in the area of cancer, it is in fact routine for people to find out their own genetic risk and to modify their surveillance," said Collins. The fields of breast and colon cancer have seen significant gains in this sort of genetically-personalized medicine.
Collins also expects people will have their genome sequenced regularly in the next five years or so, once the cost of sequencing the genome reaches about $5,000 and privacy protections for people's genetic information are in place.
"There will be drugs and other therapies waiting for you based on an understanding of the human genome that will likely be more effective and less toxic," said Collins.
For example, Collins said doctors have changed the way they treat a form of childhood leukemia. About one in 300 kids used to have severe toxic side effects, and occasionally die, from the normal dose of the cancer drug called "6-MP." Through genomic research, scientists found that only children with a certain genetic mutation will have these dangerous side effects. Now doctors can do a genetic screening and prescribe the right dose for each child.
"The potential here is enormous and we're only at the very beginning stages," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "Last century, DNA was discovered. Now, we have the protein-coding sequence for our 23,000-plus genes.
"There's incredible potential here -- for good and bad, but at least it's got the potential for good," said Ayoob.
Many have voiced concerns about individuals' genetic privacy if genome sequencing becomes cheaper, widely accessible and popular. But others say the benefits are too much to ignore.
Dr. Margit Burmeister, professor of psychiatry and human genetics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said our genes, for example, already have changed the way we treat lung cancer by tailoring medicine to the individual.
"Drugs like Iressa [a lung cancer drug] should only be given to people with certain mutations," Burmeister said. "This is really only the start, and my prediction is that in the next 10 years, this will become a lot more important."
"It's hard to imaging areas of society that aren't touched by it," said Venter.
Patients may not even think of it as they sign in with a pad and pen, then sit in the waiting room while the nurse pulls their file. But doctors say the internet and information technology has actually changed the way they practice medicine for the better. Even doctors need to look things up from time to time.
"Early in practice," said Dr. John Messmer, associate professor at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, "if I had a clinical question to research, I had to go to the library, pull out multiple years of the Index Medicus, look up the topic, write down the references, go to the stacks and pull the volumes of journals, find the article, read the article, go to the copy machine and make a copy. ... If I were lucky, I would have my answer in about four hours."