How do you keep your genome private?

December 13, 2007

Does anyone read Wired magazine?

Well in this month’s edition an article ran about the ability to send off and get your genome sequenced for $1000; this brings in a whole new security dimension, previously not thought of. It is now economically possible to compare your genetic sequence with known genes that are known to cause disorders such as prostate cancer and Crohn’s disease (23andme.com). What does this mean to the average person on the street?

Once you have “submitted” your sample, (ie produced enough saliva to place in a test-tube) this then gets couriered to California where it is then made into thousands of G.C.T. A sequences that make up your DNA. That’s the easy bit – relatively speaking (my other half is a geneticist so I will get killed when I get home).

Once sequenced the genome is stored in databases to allow searches to be performed against mutations that suggest an elevated risk. We all know about the benefits that scene of crime forensics can give in tracking down criminals. This is only useful if the the genetic markers are on file or database, but this technique is much more advanced than that. Imagine if insurance brokers had access to your genetic sequence, and increased your premiums five-fold because you have a 32% chance of suffering a stroke whilst at the wheel of your car.

Whilst the ability to reduce the risk of fatal disease is obviously a good thing, the security and accuracy of your extremely personal data – your DNA – is of paramount importance.

How do you quantify the impact of getting one letter wrong in your genetic sequence? What would be the consequence of losing your sequence? Would the Data Protection Act apply if 23andme.com lost your code?

Interesting times?

Thanks -Paul


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