Science has massively progressed when it comes to DNA discovery.
In a 2005 Ted Talk, James Watson reveals that upon his 1953 finding of the DNA Double Helix Structure (together with Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin) there were no grounds to patent their invention because nobody could figure out what ‘on earth’ it would be used for.
The year 1953 feels like centuries away if you look at the infinite possibilities of what we are able to do with this incredible discovery today.
In 2007 it was the same James Watson who became the first person to have his entire genome sequenced – making all of his 6 billion base pairs publicly available for research.
Today, media platforms like Mashable and The Guardian are offering general consumers hands-on advice on which DNA tests to gift for the holidays and for less than £20 you can buy a Paternity DNA Test Kit at your local drug store.
On a scientific level we are able to perform highly complex procedures such as a liquid biopsy, a cancer-related DNA alteration before the patient experiences the symptoms or investigate what actually causes conditions such as Autism.
As it becomes more clear to us what the great advantages are of Watson’s original findings from over 64 years ago, we also notice that an accelerated uptake can come with grave risks.
In a 2017 interview with WIRED Science, the Stanford Biologist Gil Bejerano revealed that something needs to be done to ensure that people’s genetic code will not be used against them.
“People rightly worry that their genetic code might be used against them by insurers or hackers. If a patient held the cryptographic key to their data, they could get a valuable medical diagnosis while not exposing the rest of their genomes to outside threats.”
Just like ourselves, Bejerano is an advocate to encrypt personal genetic data so it can never be used against its rightful owners for reasons they gave their consent for.
An encrypted technology would allow individual users to keep their privacy but also help them to disclose relevant parts of their genomic sequence for purposes that they see fit.
Gil Bejerano’s sentiments are echoed by Kristen Lauter, Head of the Cryptography Department at Microsoft who likens the encryption in Science Magazine to: “locking a gold brick in a safe with a pair of gloves attached to openings in the side. A jeweler could still use the gold to make jewelry without ever having full access to the gold brick.”
We love Lauter’s comparison and are working hard on creating the perfect vault system on the Blockchain to ensure that our users can safely share their DNA data with others. In an earlier post we explained what our approach is and how we envision the growth of our system and company.
The birth of Genomes.io comes almost 7 decades after Watson’s initial discovery. A great deal has happened since 1953 and we sincerely hope that a lot more scientific progress will be booked with our genomic sequence in the midst of it all.
Yet we do need to ensure – at all times – that our genetic data are used for the right purposes, with our explicit knowledge and consent.
Or as Kristin Lauter puts it: “If we don’t think about it now, in five to 10 years a lot people’s genomic information will be used in ways they did not intend..”