It was only a few years ago that 23andMe and other personal genomics companies began to fulfill the futurisitic promise of allowing consumers to test their own DNA for hundreds (rather than hundreds of thousands) of dollars. And now it won’t be long until these screens become far more exhaustive, with such tests comprising your entire genome, rather than just specific portions of it.
Society still has plenty of thinking to do when it comes to the privacy and ethical issues involved — but from a straight logistical perspective there’s another thing we need to consider: every person’s DNA sequence represents a huge chunk of data spanning hundreds of gigabytes.
Today a company called DNAnexus is announcing that it’s raised $15 million from Google Ventures and TPG Biotech to help help scientists and genome-related services host and manage this data. Also participating in the round are First Round Capital, SoftTech VC, K9 Ventures, and Felicis Ventures. As pat of the deal, Google Ventures partner Krishna Yeshwant will be joining the company’s board, as will TPG Biotech partner and managing director Geoff Duyk.
In addition to the funding, the company is also announcing a key partnership: it’s’s teamed with Google to give a long-term home to the Short/Sequence Read Archive (SRA) database. This immense dataset, which spans 400 terabytes at this point, includes publically available whole-genome sequences that scientists can use for research purposes. The data has previously been housed by the government at the NCBI, but federal cuts mean that organization can no longer shoulder the burden, which is where DNA Nexus and Google are stepping in.
I spoke with CEO Andreas Sundquist for some time about the longer-term vision of DNAnexus. Sundquist says that DNAnexus wants to provide the underlying infrastructure for managing our DNA in the future. At this point it’s still unclear what that will entail — we don’t know, for example, whether our doctors are going to be managing our DNA profiles, or whether consumers will be responsible for them. But either way, DNAnexus wants to help power these databases and services.
Of course, when you’re looking to host the world’s DNA profiles, privacy is a major concern. Sundquist says that the the company has a heavy focus on maintaining both security and privacy, with an approach that uses Google’s underlying technology as a base and expands beyond it. I’m guessing that if this does take off, we’ll see further government-mandated security measures and audits.