DNA Trade

After the trade of your personal data, here is the trade of your genetic data

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DNA sequencing has become common practice in laboratories. The methods are improving every day and allow scientists and physicians to make considerable progress in their research. But have you ever wondered where that DNA came from? The question is not often asked, yet the DNA trade is a practice that enriches many societies around the world. They have made a speciality of selling genetic codes to their clients in laboratories or pharmaceutical industries. A juicy business in which the owner of the DNA sees nothing passing. This is what the Harvard professor Gorge Church, an emblematic and sometimes controversial figure in modern genetics, wants to change. He plans to link a blockchain to DNA codes in order to pay the owners of this genetic data in cryptomony.
 
AProfessor George Church is a well-known figure in the world of genetics, one of the fathers of genome sequencing. For the record, he was the one who came up with the idea of resuscitating a mammoth from strands of DNA or making a synthetic human genome. This professor is very active in research at Harvard and MIT, but he also knows how to turn his work into business by willingly creating startups to exploit his work. This is a common and appreciated practice in the United States.
His latest creation is a startup that aims to revolutionize the way DNA sequences are traded.
 

The Google genome

His startup Nebula Genomics wants to change the way companies manipulate an individual's DNA. Many companies have hatched, especially in Silicon Valley, to trade around DNA. By 2017, it is estimated that more than 10 million genetic tests will have been performed on individuals by a myriad of companies. Among them, one pioneering company, the 23andMe which has been offering DNA testing to private individuals since 2013. The motivations of the company's clients range from paternity research to genetic disease screening and genealogical research. The tests are paid for, often expensive, about 1000 $. You thought that's where the business of these companies ended? It doesn't. The people who use these services may not realize that the real business of these companies is selling genetic data.
Indeed, these companies are intermediaries who use the DNA recovered from their customers to resell it to pharmaceutical companies or research laboratories. A member of the board of directors of 23andMe would thus have said : " The real business isn't making money selling kits. Once you have the data, you become the Google of health care. ".
 
The financial stakes are indeed considerable. A company like 23andMe has already recovered more than $130 million in these transactions. This company, founded by Anne Wojcicki, the ex-wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, and housed until last year near the Google complex in Mountain View, has become a specialist in genetic databases. To date, she preserves a collection of genetic information on almost 1.5 million people that constitutes a real treasure. Financial investors have not been mistaken and value the startup at more than a billion dollars. The company sells its data to a large dozen clients, including major pharmaceutical companies. The MIT Review reveals that the Genentech laboratory paid 23andMe $10 million to examine the genes of people with Parkinson's disease.
 
Because the startup's gene bank is documented. The samples are all accompanied by medical or lifestyle information voluntarily provided by the people who submitted their DNA. We thus learn that a particular DNA sample is that of a person who loves coriander or smokes cannabis. This year, for example, the company found genetic variations strongly linked to the fact that customers see themselves as early risers, offering a clue as to how to develop specific drugs.
As you can see, this genetic data is in the same register as our personal data already widely marketed by the giants of the web, with Facebook and Google in the lead. New Google companies are now entering the genetic big data market.
 

Don't let the train of fortune pass you by

Professor Church wants to thwart this model, with the ulterior motive of occupying a prominent place in this market. Why should the people who provide such valuable genetic data be content to watch the train go by and let other middlemen make a fortune on their backs? Why not pay for the genetic codes provided so far free of charge?
 
In order to implement this idea, George Church created Nebula, whose objectives and strategy are explained in an white paper. This startup is considering storing genetic data. Only the owners of this data can have access to it or, an important detail, give access to others. If an organization wishes to acquire the data from this owner, it will have to be transparent. To do this, Professor Church says he is able to associate a blockchain with each genetic code, allowing the source to be identified. All transactions will be recorded in this encryption chain. So when a lab wants to buy your genetic code, the transaction will be recorded and you will be able to collect a fee.
This remuneration is provided for in cryptomoney. Tokens" will be used as a bargaining chip and their price will vary as DNA sequencing becomes cheaper. Buyers, such as pharmaceutical companies or research laboratories, will be able to survey DNA owners and pay for this "service" in tokens. Some genes would be worth more than others. For example, the genes of a stalwart 115-year-old man will be worth a lot more if they can decipher the secret of longevity. Similarly, carriers of rare phenotypes will have their genes offered to the highest bidders.
Buyers may also choose to pay the cost of sequencing an individual's entire genome if the survey reveals information that is of particular interest to the buyer. In this regard, it should be noted that George Church has created another startup, Veritas GeneticsThe purpose of this project is to completely sequence the genome. It's a way of playing all the tables.
 
Professor Church's idea is original in that it includes a blockchain system. However, the idea of commercializing his DNA is not really new. Other companies like EncrypGen, Luna DNA and Zenome have indicated to Tech Crunch that they could build platforms for people to sell their own DNA. It's a boiling hot market.
 
The DNA business seems to be really taking off. The competition between business models is going to be tough. The battle to bring down the cost of DNA testing will multiply appetites. Already some observers of this nascent market estimate that the cost of complete genome sequencing, currently 1,000 $, could quickly drop to less than 100 $. And why wouldn't it be free if the resale of the data could finance it?
 
Then we will always be able to ask ourselves ethical questions, the dynamics of the market will probably have the last word. After the protection of our personal data, we will have to worry about the protection of our genetic data, with or without a blockade. Our privacy is definitely shrinking at a glance.
 
 

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