One Company Offers To Sequence Your Genome Free Of Charge, Then Let You Profit From It

“Everything is private information, stored on your computer or a computer you designate,” says George Church, genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, about the approach of Nebula Genomics.

The blockchain was invented in 2008 for the purpose of tracking the exchange of Bitcoins in a manner that cannot be hacked. So far, the blockchain has proven to be the most secure computer method available for tracking information about all sorts of things. Today, the blockchain is used to track financial transactions at major banks, for recording transfers of cryptocurrencies, for tracking the source of fish from the point of being caught to a sushi restaurant, and for the tracking of spare parts sold by large industrial manufacturers.

NOTE: For an explanation of what a blockchain is and how it works, look at Blockchain Explained at https://www.upfolio.com/ultimate-blockchain-guide.

A startup genetics company says it’s now offering to sequence your entire genome at no cost to you. Nebula Genomics, created by the prominent Harvard geneticist George Church and his lab colleagues, seeks to upend the usual way genomic information is owned. In fact, you would retain ownership of the 6 billion bits of your genetic source code instead of giving the information away to some company in the manner that most of today’s DNA databases operate. You might even be able to make money off it, although the amount of money earned probably will be modest. The information would be stored privately in a blockchain that cannot be hacked.

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Someone Else’s DNA Can be Used to Identify You

More than 60 percent of Americans who have some European ancestry can be identified using DNA databases — even if they have not submitted their own DNA, researchers reported Thursday.

Enough people have done some kind of DNA test to make it possible to match much of the population, the researchers said. So even if you don’t submit your own DNA, if a cousin does, it could lead people to you.

Details may be found in an article by Maggie Fox in the NBC News web site at: https://nbcnews.to/2CckjVT.

Like It or Not, Everyone might soon be in a DNA Database

There is an interesting article by Stuart Leavenworth in the Herald.net web site:

“Familial searches led California authorities to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo in the Golden State Killer probe in April, and investigators have since used it to make breakthroughs in several other unsolved murder cases, including four in Washington state, Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina.

“But as these searches proliferate, they are raising concerns about police engagement in “DNA dragnets” and “genetic stop and frisk” techniques. And as public DNA databases grow and are accessed by law enforcement, investigators may soon have the ability to track down nearly anyone, even people who never submitted their genetic material for analysis.

“’If you are a privacy zealot, this is super alarming. It means you don’t have any privacy,’ said Malia Fullerton, a bioethics specialist and professor at the University of Washington. ‘On the other hand, if you have no problem with police using your family information to solve these cold cases, you might see this as a good thing.’”

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23andMe’s DNA Library to be used for Drug Development

If you had your DNA tested by 23andMe (as I did), your information will be used to help develop new drugs for various medical conditions. However, not everyone is happy with the idea of using personal information for use in developing products by a for-profit company in a for-profit research project.

23andMe has partnered with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in a bid to develop new drug treatments. 23andMe, which gives customers insight into their genetic makeup via postal saliva tests, has some five million customers — a potential DNA database considerably larger than those generally available to the scientific community. “By working with GSK, we believe we will accelerate the development of breakthroughs,” 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki wrote in a blog post.

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Genealogy Databases and the Future of Criminal Investigation

Science Magazine has published a thought-provoking article about the use of public DNA databases by the use of law enforcement officials. The introduction to the article by Natalie Ram, Christi J. Guerrini, and Amy L. McGuire states:

“The search of a nonforensic database for law enforcement purposes has caught public attention, with many wondering how common such searches are, whether they are legal, and what consumers can do to protect themselves and their families from prying police eyes. Investigators are already rushing to make similar searches of GEDmatch in other cases, making ethical and legal inquiry into such use urgent.”

The article also considers issues that seem to violate the U.S. Constitution, such as the following:

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Protecting Privacy in Genomic Databases

A recent announcement from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Indiana University at Bloomington describes a process that permits database queries for genome-wide association studies but reduces the chances of privacy compromises to almost zero.

The new system, implements a technique called “differential privacy,” which has been a major area of cryptographic research in recent years. Differential-privacy techniques add a little bit of noise, or random variation, to the results of database searches, to confound algorithms that would seek to extract private information from the results of several, tailored, sequential searches.

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Kuwait to Require DNA Testing for Everyone

A new DNA testing law will go into effect later this year in Kuwait. It is aimed at creating an integrated security database and reportedly does not include genealogical implications and should not affect personal freedoms and privacy. Senior officials told Kuwait Times that the law, the first of its kind in the world, will only be used for criminal security purposes. When the law (no. 78/2015) is applied, it will be binding on all citizens, expatriates and visitors too.

You can read more about this new law in an article in the Kuwait Times at http://goo.gl/yMk9Cz.