Updated: Mar 10, 2021
With the pandemic muscling its way through the globe and covid news dominating the science section of every newspaper, it's easy to forget all of the great technology on the horizon. This includes AI, blockchain and of course, genomics. All of these technologies are still in their infancy, but especially genomic sequencing. Try to think back decades when the internet was a strange word on most people's minds and entrepreneurs were unsure of what to do with it. That's where genomic sequencing is at the moment. And while we're fumbling in the dark, companies are making a lot of money getting our most private asset sequenced- our DNA. However, that's starting to change. In this post, we'll shed some light on the start-ups that are working to help you profit off your DNA, like you could with any other asset you own. Read more to learn how LunaDNA, Nebula Genomics and Encrypgen are leading the charge.
The Current Model
Ever since the human genome project achieved its goal of identifying and mapping all of the genes of a human being, two companies rose to the forefront to read and interpret genes for you. The two leading companies are 23andMe and AncestryDNA. And they don't just charge you for this service (for sometimes as low as $60). They also make money by selling your data for research to pharmaceutical and biotech companies hoping to develop new drugs.
How to Make Money with Your Genes
Now there's a new business model, one in which the owner of the DNA also gets a piece of that money pie. The three companies making this a reality are LunaDNA, Nebula Genomics and Encrypgen. Each has their own business model:
Nebula Genomics Review
Nebula Genomics's mission is to provide anyone secure, affordable access to whole genome sequencing. Not only that, but customers would maintain ownership of their data, and rent out this data to selected research companies if they wanted to.
Nebula Genomics is turning their innovations into products and making them available to people around the globe. The technology behind this system is blockchain, which is also the tech behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Blockchain allows the massive amount of data to be securely recorded in an encrypted ledger. All of this is made possible by the contributions of cofounder Prof. George Church, who developed multiple DNA sequencing methods for this enterprise. In particular, his laboratory co-invented CRISPR-Cas9, a revolutionary gene-editing tool.
In Nebula's proposed model, customers could profit off their DNA up to 50 times the cost of sequencing their genome- a small fortune for many people. All they'd have to do is rent it out for research, similar to renting out any asset you own. Customers would get paid in Nebula's native cryptocurrency, which hasn't been fully developed yet. Research companies like the idea since they could also obtain the genetic data from the billions of people who would never pay for traditional sequencing due to privacy concerns.
Nebula Genomics has partnered with Oasis Labs to enable customers to get better control over their data with stronger security and cutting edge technology. If you're interested in getting your DNA sequenced and taking part in their upcoming beta launch, visit their site. You'll be able to maintain complete control over how your genomic data is used using the Oasis app. With a ledger incorporating blockchain technology, you can also track all usage of your genes, including how it's accessed by research companies.
Nebula isn't the only platform trying to put ownership of your genes back in your hands. Another notable company, LunaDNA is giving them a run for their money. LunaDNA is a community-owned platform designed specifically for health research. It was created by a team of passionate genomics and tech scientistis known as the Public Benefit Corporation, LunaPBC. Through the platform, the team develops research projects to discover medical breakthroughs. The platform allows anyone to join this community, share their genetic data, get paid in the form of ownership shares in the organization, and then get additional dividends from proceeds.
To join and share data on LunaDNA, it only takes a few steps. First, you become a member, which includes giving consent to share your health and DNA data for health researchers. Once your raw data is uploaded, it is encrypted to ensure privacy and security. It is also de-identified which allows researchers to find your data without knowing who it belongs to. In other words, your personal information is stored in a separate database from the genetic data. Researchers can only access your data within the LunaDNA platform and cannot be exported by anyone.
Once researchers use your data for research, they must pay to access the platform. In turn, you will earn shares in LunaDNA based on the data that you contribute. You have the option to donate or keep your shares. As the research scientists complete their studies, proceeds from those contracts flow back to members of the LunaDNA platform in the form of dividends.
Lastly, Encrypgen is yet another blockchain-mediated genetic data marketplace. This time the platform was found by husband and wife team Dr. David Koepsell and Dr. Vanessa Gonzalez.
If you have had your DNA tested by sites like Ancestry DNA, you can upload your raw DNA data and create a Gene-Chain profile on the Encrypgen platform. Like the others mentioned in this post, EncrypGen de-identifies the raw DNA data file by stripping away all personal information, so that the data cannot be linked to you when researchers access the platform. These "data buyers" search Gene-Chain profiles suitable for their research studies. Once they find what they're looking for, they make a purchase using DNA tokens. DNA tokens are an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency available on many crypto exchanges like Binance. Therefore, once you get paid in DNA tokens, you can exchange these tokens for other crypto like Bitcoin or convert it into fiat like US dollars.
AI and Blockchain and Genomics, Oh My!
With the rise of blockchain technology over the last decade, this sudden trend of companies enabling people to monetize their own genomes only makes sense. With the vast complexity of data within genomes, only blockchain can keep it secure enough to enable a marketplace between individuals and research companies.
In addition, with the rise of AI, it is easier than ever to detect trends in data, even within something as large as a human genome. Continuous contributions of new genomic data will help research teams around the world discover correlations between genetic makeup, conditions, medications and outcomes. These correlations can be used to enhance healthcare, inform prevention strategies and even treat humanity's worst diseases.