Blockchain transforms DNA sequencing
DNA sequencing can be transformed with blockchain:
The first DNA sequencing had cost US $ 3 billion! Technological innovations have brought the cost down to US $ 1,000 in 2018, and blockchain can bring it down to US $ 100.
DNA sequencing: It’s importance, and the opportunity gaps
For the living organisms, the genetic information is contained in Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). DNA and RNA are comprised of the Nucleobases, the sequence of which determines the attributes of a living organism. DNA sequencing is all about identifying this sequence within DNA and RNA. Researchers working on identifying changes in genes look for the vital information contained in this sequence, which allows them to associate genes to various diseases. Pharmaceutical companies use this research material to identify potential drug targets. Additionally, genes form only 25% of the DNA in genome, hence knowing the entire DNA sequence allows scientists to study the part of genome outside of the genes. Knowing these long stretches of DNA about which scientists don’t know much now, will help the cause of medical innovation immensely.
The below factors currently impede DNA sequencing from achieving its true potential:
- The step-by-step process to analysis DNA sequence is complex and requires massive amount of number-crunching.
- The data currently available is too small.
- Even the small amount of data available is highly fragmented.
- The data isn’t standardized, making research very slow.
- Data acquisition is slow.
- The cost for DNA testing is very high, there isn’t incentive for an individual person to go through this expensive testing process.
- Individuals are concerned about the privacy of their DNA data.
- Individuals currently don’t own and control their DNA data, and mostly agrees to let healthcare providers sell anonymized form of their data to the big pharma companies, and the entire revenue is pocketed by the healthcare provider.
How blockchain is helping in bridging the gaps:
Blockchain, the technology that promises decentralization and immutable records, involves computers on the network, called ‘nodes’, maintain a shared version of truth. In this distributed database, every node has the same and latest information on the entire blockchain, and blockchain can’t be destroyed by taking out any central server. Each node has equal authority, and updates to blockchain needn’t be routed through any central authority. Block records, also called ‘blocks’, are linked via a predetermined protocol. No existing record can be deleted or updated, only new blocks can be added. Since any node can add a new block, it’s important to maintain a proper order of transactions, without which data integrity can’t be ensured. Blockchain achieves this by the consensus mechanism. There can be different consensus algorithms, for e.g. proof of work (POW), which requires majority of all participant nodes to validate transactions. On the other hand, proof of stake (PoS) algorithm requires majority of nodes that have staked their crypto tokens for transaction validation purpose, to approve a new transaction. Either way, a new block can be created only after very significant number-crunching done at high speed, and therefore nodes have special-purpose software and specially-designed hardware. Such a rigorous process to update blockchain makes any effort to hack it economically non-viable.
Below is a summary of how technology companies are using the power of blockchain to transform DNA sequencing:
- Technology giant Intel has applied for a patent that envisages using blockchain, and the massive computing power typically used in it, to help genetic sequencing. The patent involves creating a special type of computer, called sequence mining platform (SMP). Apart from processor and storage medium, SMP will include a sequence manager, which will determine the sequence of nucleobases. SMP also has a blockchain manager to collect data for transactions that will make up the new block. There is also a sequence mining module (SMM) that uses the sequence of nucleobases to create POW for the new block. A POW, which is the sequence of the nucleobases, also serves as the verification tool when the next block is created.
- Nebula Genomics, an American blockchain start-up, will use blockchain and allow users to store their DNA data securely, aided by advanced data protection. Nebula uses Ethereum smart contracts, and individual users will pay for their DNA sequencing with Nebula crypto token. The buyers can purchase Nebula cryptocurrency with fiat currency, and buy the DNA data. This way the buyers will ultimately subsidize DNA sequencing. The individual will have control over their data, secured on blockchain, and can get paid by selling their data. Whole DNA sequencing is supported, and the platform is compatible with Big Data and Analytics, besides, 3rd party apps are supported. The volume of data is expected to be more, with the incentives that the individual has, and the platform will support aggregation and standardization of data.
- Encrypgen, another American blockchain start-up, will allow users to store their DNA data securely on their blockchain. If the user agrees to sell her data, she will be paid DNA cryptocurrency.
- Yet another American blockchain start-up, Luna DNA, will pay users with Luna crypto token if they upload their data on their secure blockchain network, and the pharma companies can buy anonymized form of this data.
- Zenome, a Russian blockchain start-up, enables users to securely store their DNA data, provides a free report to the user on their health and origin, and if the user agrees to sell her data, she will be paid with ZEN cryptocurrency.
Onwards to DNA sequencing for US $ 100, then!