Could it be possible to know if you have a sweet tooth or if you run the risk of a certain disease? Could it be possible to know more about your ancestors or your personality traits which are defined by your DNA? The answer is Yes…and you can know it either this year or next!!.
It all began with Justin Kao, the co-founder of Helix, a US based biotechnology company, discovering the ‘sweet tooth gene’ while listening to the National Public Radio. He realized that if he had the sweet tooth and/or any other traits which could hold the key for identifying more about one’s health, he would pay for that info.
This eventually led his organization to guarantee more than $100 million in a mission to create the first ‘app store’ or the ‘DNA App Store’ for genetic information which can store and reveal significant genetic information through DNA sequencing.
Genomes are genetic materials in all living things and hold all the information about their health, physical traits and ancestors. Anyone who wishes to gain access to information on his/her genes buys the DNA App. He/She goes on to give his spit sample, which is sequenced and analyzed for information, and this data is then made available to the customer.
The most significant part of the genome (20,000 genes and a few other parts) is decoded and digitized, and information provided for just $100, which is one-fifth of what it costs to other companies. All data needed by customers (for eg. a sweet tooth gene or if they run the risk of a particular disease), is made accessed at any other time.
For example − A customer(s) downloads an application from a Helix partner (partnering organizations) to find out if he/she has a specific sports/speed gene variant or if they want to know how they might look in ten years, or which celebrity they resemble most.
Or if a consumer wants to know more about medically actionable medical conditions, they may decide to access the app from Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings. Or, if they have health-related questions, they might contact Helix’s other partner to date, the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine.
Also, if the individual has already sent in their spit sample once, they needn’t do it again. One can just pay and keep getting the information as and when they want or simply ‘pay-as-you-go.’ So customers can access an open market place of on-demand applications. According to Justin Kao, “We expect to have a top-notch team of geneticists, bioinformaticians, and other scientists to support our efforts.”
Currently, there does not exist a mass market for DNA data. Helix intends to change this. Helix calls the idea “sequence once, query often” business model. It’s the new way to interact with DNA. Genetic information will soon become more and more valuable with it beginning to reveal all our hidden information.
Illumina CEO, Jay Flatley said −
“ Genomics is reaching an inflection point in cost, volumes, and knowledge, creating a significant opportunity to unlock information that is currently not widely accessible to individuals” (businessinsider.in).
In conjunction with Illumina, the principal manufacturer of DNA sequencing machines, Helix propose to place in the missing link. Illumina is already laying the ground for being able to sequence at least a million DNA samples a year as numerous miles of date cables strung through the ceilings will be connected to a large farm of sequencing machines.
Also, preconception testing is being looked at by Good Start Genetics which will enable parents to be knowledgeable about passing on some serious conditions to kids or not. Other organizations such as Veritas are already looking at genome sequencing while creating their own app which will add a FaceTime appointment.
Other genetic testing businesses which are at a direct-to-consumer platform are 23andMe (ancestry/health risks), Gene By Gene (whole-genome sequencing) and Color Genomics (health risks).
Though this information could be prone to cyber attacks, actions could be taken to prevent such. After all, humans would certainly prefer to know if they run the risk of getting a disease and try to prevent it by maybe adjusting their lifestyle, advancing long-term healthcare and habits.
“The genome is an asset that you have for life, and you’ll keep going back to it. The bottom line is going to be: What are the regulatory constraints on information that is truly useful?” says Mirza Cifric, CEO of Veritas Genetics.
Though genetic sequencing is at a nascent stage, it is already a billion dollar industry. The consumer demand is expected to increase exponentially with its progression and growth. The world is on the threshold of genetic information transformation which will aid humans to gain an insight into their personality, lifestyle and other essential physical traits.