Author – Anujit
Renowned geneticist professor George Church is working on closing a few key opportunity gaps in the space of genome sequencing. The Harvard and MIT scientist is launching his blockchain-powered start-up Nebula Genomics, with crypto token Nebula.
DNA data, and genome information within, is very important for multiple reasons. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) contain the genetic information for living organisms. Nucleobases make up DNA and RNA, and the order of these nucleobases determine the physical attributes of a living organism. Crux of genetic sequencing involves identifying the order of these nucleobases in DNA and RNA. The valuable information contained in this sequencing is used by researchers, who work towards identifying changes in genes. The researchers will then be able to identify associations of these genes with various diseases. This information is very important to the pharmaceutical companies, who identify potential drug targets using this. Besides, genes actually form less than 25% of the DNA in the genome, hence if scientists know the entire genome sequence, they can study the part of the genome outside of the genes. This means knowing what long stretches of DNA, which they know nothing about currently, actually do. The information could be immensely valuable for medical innovation purpose.
The high potential of genome sequencing can be realized if the following key opportunity gaps can be bridged:
- Currently the amount of genomic data available is really small.
- The data is fragmented.
- There isn’t sufficient standardization of this data.
- Acquisition of data is slow.
- DNA testing costs a lot. The first genome sequencing was done at a cost of US $ 3 billion! Only recently has it been brought down to the level of US $ 1,000, still high by any standard, and surveys indicate that customers would want it to brought down to US $ 100.
- Individual customers have concerns over the privacy of their data.
- The individual whose DNA data it actually is, gets no control over her data. The individual most often agrees to let the healthcare provider sell their data to big pharmaceuticals or other major healthcare providers, and the entire revenue from the sell goes to the DNA testing provider. There isn’t much incentive for an individual to get DNA testing done, and let researchers access that data.
Nebula plans to bridge the opportunity gaps with the power of blockchain:
Nebula’s solution to eventually bring down the cost of genome sequencing to US $100, and address the privacy concerns of the individual customers, while giving them control over their genome data, is powered by blockchain. Blockchain is a technology that ensures immutable record and complete audit trail, because a network of computers maintain a shared, verifiable, and permanent record of data. In this distributed database each node is considered as a ledger, and the entire database is maintained by all nodes. This eliminates middleman. Furthermore, changing or deleting an existing block is not possible, hence, to update a blockchain, a new block has to be created. To create a new block, each “Miner”, i.e. the combination of powerful software, specially designed hardware, and their user, has to provide proof of work (POW) for the last recorded block in the blockchain, using a massive number-crunching operation done at high speed. This is in an environment where many other miners are also doing the same, which makes it more difficult for any miner to provide POW. This makes updating blockchain very hard, i.e. only when a miner provides proof of very significant number-crunching work done, he/she gets to create a new block. Hacking blockchain is, hence, not economically viable, making it a very secure technology.
Nebula uses Ethereum smart contracts, and the individual customer will pay for their personal genome sequencing with the Nebula token. The buyers of the data can buy Nebula cryptocurrency with fiat currencies, and then they can get access to DNA data.
As reported earlier, 3 other companies are building blockchain-powered DNA data marketplaces, and they are:
- Encrypgen will allow users to securely store their genomic data, which will be shared with medical providers if the users permit, and the users will be paid in DNA cryptocurrency for selling their data.
- Zenome allows secured storage of data, provides a free report of health and origin to the users, and users will be paid in cryptocurrency ZEN for selling their data.
- Luna DNA will pay users with Luna crypto token if they upload their data, and medical providers can buy anonymized DNA data.
Additionally, Ancestry, the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world, operating genealogical and genetic historical records websites. There is also Google-backed 23andMe, a human genome research company that enables individual customers to study their ancestry and genealogy.
- Allows users to store data securely;
- Advanced data protection;
- Buyers of the data will ultimately subsidize genome sequencing costs;
- Individual customers get paid for their data;
- Whole genome sequencing;
- Aggregation and standardization of data;
- Speedy acquisition of large data sets;
- Buyers can directly contact data owners;
- Solution is compatible with Big Data and Analytics;
- Platform supports 3rd party apps.
In addition to Professor Church being a recognized authority in this field, which is a great advantage, Nebula has Veritas Genetics as a partner, and global giant Elly Lily as an investor.