Internet for DNA sharing

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health is now opening access to over 1 million DNA sequences. Credit: Global Alliance

The downward spiral of DNA sequencing cost is resulting in thousands and thousands of genomes being sequenced. Several millions have been sequenced since 2004 and hundreds of millions are likely to be available in the coming decade.

The problem is that the sequencing is being done by different companies and the result of sequencing is carefully guarded making access to that information impossible. This is not strange. Your genome (as well as mine) is a faithful description of the engine that makes you tick. Most of its contain information that we do not know how to decode/extract and interpret. Still, it is there and as time goes by more and more meaning would be extracted.  Very private information indeed.

On the other hand, the availability of millions of DNAs would allow scientists to learn about similarities and differences leading to the discovery of telltales for specific genetic pathologies as well as potential sensitivity (good and bad) to drugs.

To balance between privacy concern and the potential for advances in medicine a group of scientists back in 2013 decided to launch the Global Alliance for genomics and health. The idea took root and now the Global Alliance is operational with over 200 companies have subscribed, pulling together over a million DNA sequences.

The Global Alliance has released a set of API letting researchers access specific sequences of codons and comparing them preserving privacy. 
Actually, the preservation of privacy is not 100% sure since DNA sequence is specific to each person and there is a potential risk of being able to associate a face to a DNA string (although it remains most unlikely).

Having an Internet for DNA is opening up the door to statistical analyses and according to researchers this could lead to an explosion of knowledge, something that will have a profound impact on medicine in the next decade.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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