The Russian non-profit Zenome.io has launched today the beta release of the first decentralized ‘genomic internet’, which is expected to make possible the safe storage of large amounts of genetic data.

Genomics is one of the largest generators of data on the internet, more than Twitter and YouTube according to Zenome. Using a decentralized network similar to blockchain, Zenome’s newly launched ‘genomic internet’ aims to deal with the challenges of storage, privacy, and sharing data in joint research projects.

“The main advantage of decentralized databases is that the degree of security is much higher. A classical database has one or several centralized servers that store all the personal data of people. If an attacker has access to the server he immediately receives all the data about a large number of users. Examples of such hacking include recent stories from MyHeritage and Yahoo,” co-founder Alex Gorbachov told us.

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“With a decentralized system your data is fragmented and distributed across multiple network’s nodes. In addition, the data is encrypted and only the owner of the data has a private key, allowing find out where the data-fragments are stored and how to assemble them into a single file. If the hacker steals the data of one of the network’s user, the data of other users will still be safe.”

The Zenome network will also allow service providers to build a marketplace for genomics. The users will have access to genomic services — For example, they can buy a genomic report about their personal diet or ethnic origins,” Gorbachev points out — as well as being able to sell their data.

According to Gorbachev, the network will be particularly beneficial to research organizations that need to share genomic data. “Our IT infrastructure will allow for joint research between different countries without violating the law on data transfer.”

Biotech companies could also benefit by selling services on the Zenome network and using it to store their data.

Blockchain is known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. In recent years, several companies have started developing blockchain-powered technologies directed at safely storing and sharing genomic data that lets the users keep control of their data. This would avoid the privacy concerns raised by partnerships such as that of 23andMe and GSK this July, which will let the big pharma access a huge genomic database.

Two of the most advanced companies applying blockchain to genomics are US-based Luna DNA and Nebula Genomics, which Gorbachev claims have “almost completely copied” Zenome’s genomic marketplace concept.

“Our advantage is in the fact that we are moving ahead of competitors, we were the first to develop a new network protocol and are preparing to launch the working network. In addition, our development team located in Moscow where the cost of development is 6-7 times less than in the Silicon Valley,” says Gorbachev.

The Israeli company DNAtix is also working in this space, having recently launched an open-source compression tool that can facilitate the transfer of large amounts of genomic data using blockchain technologies. 


Image via Shutterstock

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