Will you surf the Internet of DNA?

The internet is an invention of connection. Connecting information. Connecting products. Connecting people. But can it sustain a more meaningful connection – connecting genetic information?

If so, then we’re on the cusp of massive medical breakthrough – from curing rare diseases to understanding the pathways of mental illness. The time for the Internet of DNA is upon us. Especially since genomic testing has taken off in the last few years:

The largest labs can now sequence human genomes to a high polish at the pace of two per hour. The first genome took about 13 years… DNA sequencing will be capable of producing 85 petabytes of data this year worldwide. For comparison, all the master copies of movies held by Netflix take up 2.6 petabytes of storage. 

Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

All of this DNA information is relatively useless if it can’t be accessed asynchronously by doctors, researchers, and consumers. Similar to how Wikipedia relinquished us from the barrier to knowledge.

The biggest benefit of an Internet of DNA is what’s called genetic matchmaking. Essentially, this is the concept that specific sequences of DNA that cause disease, illness, etc. are common among other patients suffering from the same problem. This would allow doctors to learn from the practices of others before.

For instance, this could be invaluable for cancer treatment. Tumors are the result of genetic mutations. Doctors that can match similar mutations to previous cancer patients, effectively unlock insight into a smoother treatment – what medication worked, for what period of time, etc. Similarly, this could be the key to solving rare diseases that affect less than a thousand people worldwide.

Scientists think they’ll need to sort through a million genomes or more to solve cases that could involve a single rogue DNA letter, or to make discoveries about the genetics of common diseases that involve a complex combination of genes.

Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

Preliminary editions of the Internet of DNA are Matchmaker Exchange and WuXi NextCODE. Both of them are still challenged by bringing a useful amount of data onto the exchange, while ensuring that the database is easy to search and utilize for all parties (not just researchers).

It’s not until 2025 that we’ll see the first iteration of a consumer-facing Internet of DNA.

A consumer-facing Internet of DNA is interesting because it would allow for connection on a new level. It’s always nice to meet someone in the same boat as you, especially when things go awry. Yes, there are cancer support groups and alcoholism support groups. But, to meet one or two other people that have the exact same genetic source to the problem as you, well that seems extra comforting.

The fact of the matter is that the Internet of DNA could be an entirely new version of communication – where you connect with like-minded and “like-gened people.

Will you surf the Internet of DNA?