When the human genome was sequenced for the first time in 2001, the project cost $ 1 billion, as per a report from Nature – but today, individuals can undergo the same process for around $ 1,000, and prices are set to drop even further. Nebula Genomics, a start-up co-founded by genetic sequencing pioneer George Church, wants to give people an even cheaper option.
Nebula is using blockchain technology to construct a platform that lets customers reap the benefits of making their genetic information available to researchers, while maintaining their privacy.
Individuals will send a saliva sample to Nebula, which is analyzed by the company. From there, other entities are free to pay a fee to access to the genetic information for research purposes, using a secure computation platform provided by Nebula. The data can be rented out over and over again, even to more than one buyer at the same time.
The system is based around a purpose-built cryptocurrency dubbed Nebula tokens. Companies would need to buy tokens in order to pay for access to people’s genetic information, and individuals would initially pay a small fee to have their DNA sequenced using the coin. The idea is that they would get the money back as their genetic code is purchased by researchers all over the world.
The Genetic Market
In the past few years, various other services have sprung up that give people the ability to learn more about their genetic make-up.
The likes of 23andMe and AncestryDNA don’t offer full genome sequencing, but they do use a similar business model in that customers are asked to consent for their data to be used for research purposes. Their information is then sold on, but they don’t receive any of the money.
Companies are racing to provide a cheap way for people to undergo this analysis because they want a greater insight into their background, or a better understanding of potential health risks. The data they’re amassing will be valuable for years to come, thanks to its applications in the development of new drugs and other medical research, so building up as large a database as possible now could have a huge payoff.
In an interview with The Guardian, Nebula co-founder Dennis Grishin suggested that its customers might be able to take advantage of this need for data by finding a third party (such as a research institution) willing to subsidize the initial fee.
The company hopes to have its service operational in the U.S. within the next six months, but there are some lingering questions about its privacy measures. The key is giving researchers the access they need in order to carry out their work, while still maintaining privacy and ensuring that the information can’t be exfiltrated from the system.
The computation platform at the heart of the system is crucial – and since Nebula will make its money from researchers paying to use that infrastructure, it should come as no surprise that the company is putting great efforts into making sure its security is rock solid. The startup is already collaborating with security experts that will help make sure that data are protected, anonymous and overall a good investment and research tool.
The post Nebula Genomics Will Let You Rent out Your Genetic Information appeared first on Futurism.
CRISPR gene editing has been making waves over the last few years, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. It’s expected to transform our lives in many ways; everything from correcting genes to creating healthier food.
In April 2017, a team of researchers from various universities, including the Broad Institute, MIT, and Harvard, debuted a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool. The tool enabled them to perform a number of diagnostic tasks, like identifying cancerous mutations and detecting viruses through genetic samples, such as saliva, blood, and urine.
The team has been working to improve their diagnostic tool, named SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing), over the last 10 months. The team debuted the new and improved SHERLOCK in their research published this week in the journal Science. The latest version of the tool has better sensitivity and can quantify the amount of the virus or mutation in the sample. Even with the improvements, the team’s research demonstrated that they were able to maintain the original version’s rapid performance and inexpensive cost.
Both versions of SHERLOCK utilize a CRISPR-associated protein called Cas13. This protein can be programmed to target a specific part of DNA or RNA — be it a viral genome, genes that help bacteria become antibiotic-resistant, or those aforementioned cancerous mutations. Once targeted, Cas13 can cut that specific piece — which can sometimes cause the target to cut other nearby DNA or RNA segments.
SHERLOCK uses strands of synthetic RNA to create a signal after it’s cut. Cas13 will chop up this RNA after cutting its original target, releasing the signaling molecule. The end result is a reading that informs the user whether or not the initial target is still present.
Previously, SHERLOCK could only identify one genetic sequence at a time. The new version can identify multiple sequences, and doesn’t need as much of a genetic sample to do so.
“With the original SHERLOCK, we were detecting a single molecule in [one-millionth of a liter], but now we can achieve 100-fold greater sensitivity,” said Omar Abudayyeh, co-first author on the research, and an MIT graduate student at Broad Institute, in a statement. “That’s especially important for applications like detecting cell-free tumor DNA in blood samples, where the concentration of your target might be extremely low. This next generation of features helps make SHERLOCK a more precise system.”
In addition to the improvements made to SHERLOCK, the team has also developed a paper test that allows diagnostic results to be seen with the naked eye. The test uses visual cues similar to those seen in pregnancy tests. When a line appears in the SHERLOCK test, it signifies whether or not the target was detected.
Though new-and-improved, SHERLOCK isn’t ready for the real world just yet. Though Feng Zhang, senior author of the research, and a core institute member at the Broad Institute, believes the tool’s latest improvements have pushed it one step closer to practical applications — which could include a lot more than detecting mutations and viruses.
“[SHERLOCK] demonstrates potential for many healthcare applications, including diagnosing infections in patients and detecting mutations that confer drug resistance or cause cancer, but it can also be used for industrial and agricultural applications where monitoring steps along the supply chain can reduce waste and improve safety,” added Zhang.
The post A New Tool Uses CRISPR to Uncover Genetic Mutations and Infections appeared first on Futurism.
If innovators have their way, you’ll soon start seeing blockchain beyond the realm of cryptocurrency. People have been thinking creatively about how to use the technology powering Bitcoin to do things like shake up how people vote or access their birth records.
Now, pioneering Harvard and MIT geneticist George Church (of CRISPR and mammoth-resurrection fame) has a new startup that plans to use blockchain technology for genome sequencing — but it’s not yet clear whether it will be popular enough to edge out the competition.
The startup, dubbed Nebula Genomics, seeks to change how companies handle an individual’s DNA. Though companies like 23andMe have become popular and thousands of people have gotten their genomes tested for things like their ancestry and health conditions they might pass on to their children, most people still haven’t had their DNA sequenced. Some of the reasons may be that the test is still fairly pricey, plus consumers aren’t assured much privacy in doing so.
That’s where Nebula thinks it can do better — consumer-patients can get paid for submitting their genomic information, and ensure it’s safe in the process, according to a white paper the company recently published.
Here’s what we know about Nebula’s plans so far. It’s simple, until it’s not:
- Companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA are “middlemen,” acquiring people’s DNA, then selling it to pharmaceutical and research companies for millions of dollars. Nebula wants to eliminate them. In their place, DNA/data owners will interface directly with DNA/data buyers. There will be no “middlemen,” as Nebula puts it.
- Nebula will sequence the DNA itself, but it’ll be pricey, at least at first. Sequencing a single person’s DNA will start at $ 1,000, though Nebula expects it to drop to less than $ 100 “in a few years.”
- Owners don’t have to sell their information. After a person gets their results from Nebula, an app will allow them to “interpret their personal genomic data without sharing it with any third party.” As the app analyzes more DNA sequences, the information available to consumers will become more comprehensive.
- All data will be privately stored on Nebula’s network. Initial access is granted only to the owner, though they can give others access to it as well. Owners can also choose to store their data wherever they want, including on Dropbox.
- Organizations that want to buy users’ DNA have to be upfront about who they are, and all transactions will be recorded on the Nebula blockchain. It’s unclear if real names are required, or if something like “DNA_Enthusiast93” will suffice.
- Nebula tokens will be the sole currency on the network. Individuals use Nebula tokens to pay Nebula for their personal genome sequencing. Entities looking to buy genomic data will pay tokens to gain access to genome sequences, purchased with traditional currency. Interestingly, Nebula acknowledges that the value of Nebula tokens will decrease as DNA sequencing becomes cheaper. It’s still pretty unclear what this would mean for the network, or how exactly people will exchange tokens.
- Buyers, such as pharmaceutical companies or academics, can conduct surveys targeted at DNA owners and provide Nebula tokens in exchange. These buyers can also offer to pay an individual’s genome sequencing cost if the survey reveals information that is particularly interesting to the buyer.
Given the way genome sequencing industry currently works, integrating blockchain seems pretty revolutionary. But Nebula isn’t so unique, in fact— other startups such as EncrypGen, Luna DNA, and Zenome have indicated that they might build platforms for people to sell their own DNA, as Tech Crunch notes. The company won’t officially launch until later this year, giving the competition plenty of time to catch up.
A harder question to answer: will people trust paying with Nebula tokens? As STAT News points out, both bitcoin and Ripple have experienced sizable drops in their respective values in 2018, and bitcoin’s might even fall farther. The idea of investing in a new cryptocurrency that comes with an expiration date may be a hard sell.
And Nebula has some steep competition. Tests from 23andMe are popular, and incredibly simple (just give them your spit). The affordable $ 80 – $ 160 price is just low enough to seem worth it.
The post Here’s What We Know About the Crazy New Startup Where Scientists Use Crypto to Buy Your Genetic Data appeared first on Futurism.
Your ancestors await!
Get the AncestryDNA genetic testing kit for just $ 69 today on Amazon. We haven’t seen a deal on AncestryDNA’s testing kit since Cyber Monday. It used to sell for as much as $ 100 but ever since the holiday shopping season it has settled for a price around $ 80. Either way, this is a good deal that brings it down a peg.
This genetic testing kit uses your saliva to collect and analyze your DNA. After you send in your sample, the AncestryDNA people will analyze it and uncover your ethnic mix. It’s based on a DNA network that is six million strong and growing and covers more than 165 regions worldwide. This is one of the more popular testing kits out there and has 3.9 stars based on 2,454 user reviews on Amazon.