Sell Your DNA for Cryptocurrency with Nebula Genomics
Some people question the merits of a college degree for good reason. If you’ve any spent any length of time with MBAs, or studying for your own MBA and taking “leadership classes”, you’ll quickly realize that the real skills needed to succeed in the business world can’t be taught in a classroom. You either have it or you don’t. Still, we hire people with degrees because they have the tenacity to dedicate themselves to something over an extended period of time and make things happen. If you think back to those college days, you’ll recall a time where your hangovers were a lot more tolerable and you were a lot more broke. One way you could raise some cashback in those college days was to get a part-time job or look to more creative avenues for cash – like growing weed or donating blood.
The nice thing about donating blood was that it didn’t require much effort, and once you had the cash in your hand you could go buy a “Fody of Old E” and get absolutely smashed – because you just gave blood. Everyone won. For today’s college student though, there may soon be an even more creative way to raise cash if someone called George Church has anything to say about it. Soon, you may be able to sell your DNA to pharma companies for cryptocurrency while using blockchain to make sure the whole thing remains secure.
A company called Nebula Genomics has been in the news recently for several reasons, most notably because they combined the terms “DNA” and “blockchain” with someone leading their company who is nothing short of a genius. Though not quite the household name as visionaries like the Kardashians, Nebula founder George Church is known for his ability to work very hard to create great things, like Veritas Genomics, one of the many companies he has founded to date. His work at Veritas has now led him to establish his latest venture, Nebula Genomics. With $600,000 raised so far and another $1 million on the way, Nebula Genomics is a “blockchain-enabled genomic data sharing and analysis platform” that will allow companies to pay you for your DNA. This allows you to skip personal genomics companies which currently act as a middleman as seen below:
That concept should be pretty self-explanatory. You sell your DNA to pharma companies except that instead of cash changing hands, Nebula plans to use their own cryptocurrency. So why can’t personal genomics companies offer you the same option? According to Nebula, this comes down to the difference between “DNA sequencing” and “DNA genotyping”. In the case of proper sequencing, about 6.4 billion “letters” are read from your DNA. With genotyping, that number falls to just 600,000. Nebula claims that such a small amount of data is of limited value to both data owners and researchers. According to the Nebula white paper:
Since over 90% of DNA regions of clinical importance fall in non-coding regions, whole genome sequencing is likely to become the primary means by which many therapeutic targets will be discovered.
Essentially Nebula is saying that those personal genomics companies who have already gathered a million records worth of genomics data will need to start all over again because they’ve only managed to capture a fraction of the useful data. The reason for that is, of course, the cost is the cost of sequencing, which is why these companies opt for genotyping instead. They can’t exactly pass those costs on to the consumer either. Based on the below survey conducted by Nebula, more than half of the people surveyed think that sequencing costs need to fall below $250 in order for them to consider being tested, and more than two-thirds think that number needs to be less than $100:
Now that we have reached the $1,000 genome only 17 years after sequencing the first genome at a cost of $3 billion, Nebula expects that we will reach the $100 price point in “just a few years”. That means that the next customer concern to address is privacy. That’s where blockchain comes in. People who store their data on the platform will remain completely anonymous and their data tracked by using the blockchain.
Nebula isn’t the only company thinking about creating a business model which allows people to sell their DNA to companies. With today’s cryptocurrency craze, we wouldn’t be surprised to see dozens of “companies” trying to sell their “DNA cryptocurrencies” to
suckers future customers. One way to distinguish the wheat from the chaff is to see who is behind these various ventures. Someone like George Church lends a great deal of legitimacy to the idea while also providing the subject matter expertise needed to execute on the idea. In the Nebula white paper, we see that Nebula recognizes at least two other players out there are trying to run with a similar idea:
According to the above diagram, the two companies that are offering to sell your personal genomics data aren’t actually sequencing your entire genome because it costs a lot of money at the moment. Then there’s all the hardware needed to actually store the data. Nebula has an advantage since they’re partnered with Veritas Genetics, a startup with $51 million in funding and the likes of Elly Lily (NYSE:LLY) as an investor. With a market cap approaching $84 billion, you can be sure that LLY has some deep pockets that can help provide the funding needed to acquire the necessary storage hardware. Contrast that with the $1 million or so raised by EncrypGen and it’s easy to see how Nebula has a much better chance of making “a genomic blockchain network” a reality.
The fact that you pay some companies to access your DNA and then get paid by other companies to access your DNA shows how critical you should be of any company you hand your DNA over to. We’ve talked before about how important DNA privacy is, and that’s why Illumina’s venture called Helix lets you put your DNA in one secure place and then permission it for test providers to access. Seems like it wouldn’t take a whole of work for Helix to put an option in place that lets you permission that same DNA to companies that will pay you money for it.
Before you go spitting in a tube in exchange for some cryptocurrency, just remember that many of these crypto “startups” sprouting up like weeds can’t even manage to keep their investment dollars away from thieves. What makes you think your precious genomics data will be treated any differently?
Update 08/30/2018: Nebula Genomics has raised $4.3 million from a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.
Worried about DNA privacy? You should be. Now, Nebula Genomics allows you to learn about your DNA without giving it away. They even offer anonymous DNA testing.