Blockchain Application in Genomics & DNA

Human DNA contains a lot of information like in case of computers where the data is stored in 0 and 1 binary digits, in human DNA, the code of life is stored in four letters- A,T,G and C. The total amount of DNA found in a cell is referred to as genome. The sequencing of this genome can be helpful in enormous ways. For example, it can help in designing personalized medicines for individuals. It can be useful in treating the genetic diseases and even can be used for designing personalised diet plan for individuals.

In recent years the cost of genome sequencing has come down significantly which has led to advancements in the genetics industry and the cost is further expected to drop to as little as $100 within the next few years. Today genome sequencing is so efficient that it can sequence significant amounts of DNA in parallel. But there is challenge of managing, storing and transmission of this huge amount of information encoded in the DNA. Another pain point for researchers is security and reliability of this DNA information that is stored in public databases.

Blockchain can offer a solution and can help the researchers and companies in transmission and storing this huge data obtained from DNA Sequencing with high security. Further, the use of Blockchain can make this information resistant to fraud or fabrication. Another matter of concern is the preservation of the privacy of the individual who contributes his genetic material. And another very important question to be answered here is who controls this data? Ideally the individual should be able to control his data directly or through trusted parties such as doctors, or research groups with necessary permissions.

But in the current scenario, an individual’s genetic information is sold to other research companies without his knowledge. By selling this genetic data, companies are earning huge profits and that too without the permission of the individuals.

Through Blockchain technology, an individual will be the owner of his DNA or genetic information and he will decide who can access his genetic information and for what purpose? The user will have the option to share the genetic data anonymously. But the data buyer needs to be transparent and will be required to reveal his identity on the blockchain network. The current fees for sequencing of genome is around $1000.

These genome sequencing companies generally store this data with themselves and sell the genetic data of individuals to other pharma and biotech companies for the purpose of research and development. But with the implementation of blockchain, the data of an individual will be stored securely on the blockchain network. The data buyers including researchers, drug design companies and healthcare organizations, who are in need of this genomic data for their research, can directly obtain an individual’s genetic data from him.

The individual will get paid by the data buyers for sharing his data. Thus reducing the overall cost of getting DNA sequenced and also enhancing the security of the genomic data. Many companies like Nebula Genomics are working in this direction. For this, the smart contracts will be executed. As soon as data buyers receive the genetic information, the data owners will automatically be paid. In the current scenario, the availability of genome data is low because very few people have their genome sequenced. This remains a major roadblock for researchers, pharma and biotech companies as they require a huge volume of genetic data for conducting their research on genetic diseases.

Read more : use case & implementation of blockchain

The researchers are usually not interested in random datasets, but instead they seek to acquire genomic data from individuals with specific phenotypes, such as particular medical conditions because genome data
without phenotypic data is not particularly useful.

Another challenge that they face is regarding the quality of the data. Quality of collected data is often uncertain, because it is typically collected through middlemen, personal genomics companies, which rely on self-reported data. The data bought from different sources is often encoded in different formats which makes it time consuming for data buyers to convert it into a consumable format.

But through blockchain the data buyers will get directly connected to individuals, therefore, it would be easy for them to acquire phenotypic information along with genotypic information from individuals. And on the blockchain, the genomic data will be stored in standard formats that will save time and money of researchers.

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