Today, the amount of global genetic data is doubling on the order of every seven months. This time span has shortened significantly over the past years as the field of genomics continues to mature. A recent study showed genomics is starting to compete with the data outputs of digital giants like Twitter and YouTube. This is a game-changer for both science and technology. At this pace, genomics will rival astronomy. In the future, as the authors of this study suggest, we might say ‘that’s a genomically big number’ instead of an astronomically big one.
It is clear that despite the headline-grabbing news surrounding the human genome project we are still at the early stages of realizing how genomic technologies will re-shape society. It is fascinating to watch these changes occur at a scientific and medical level, but also a cultural one.
One question that emerges is where to find all this data and how to make it accessible, both to drive further research and to increase public ‘genomic literacy’. Today, online information about DNA research is growing exponentially but is still spread across isolated pockets of the Internet on a bewilderingly diverse array of websites held by companies and research institutes.
Luckily, at least all public raw DNA data is centralized – a key factor to thank for the tremendous growth of this field so far. The value of DNA data is dependent on its context – i.e. the amount of relevant data available for comparison. One human genome is difficult to interpret in isolation. A million human genomes with extensive ‘annotations’, or information describing each individual, health status and traits, is far easier to draw interpretations from. The latter is the vision for the future.
In the early days of research the United States, Europe, and Japan invested in building a global DNA library. In fact, in the United States, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which hosts “Genbank” is a part of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Genbank, alongside the EBI’s ENA and Japan’s DDBJ collectively host all public DNA data – or aim to, when it can be drawn out of private stores held in companies and research institutions. China’s BGI has recently entered the game with a multi-million dollar investment in its China National GeneBank.
Some people researching their own genomes might visit one of these global portals but they are designed primarily to serve researchers with expert knowledge. More likely, members of the general public might visit second and third generation sites like OpenSNP specifically built to openly host human data in a more accessible way.
Companies like AncestryDNA.com, 23andMe, and Ubiome are building online interfaces to supplied personalized data for their customers of their genetic testing services. Illumina, the dominant DNA sequencing company offers the app mygenome for smart phones. Google, Amazon and Apple all want your DNA now raising new speculations about the ease at which we might access genomic data in the future.
There is a potential building boom coming. If you were a visionary in the earliest days of the internet you might have registered the generic names ‘carinsurance.com’ or ‘insurance.com’. These two URLs alone have a combined value of $84 million dollars and top the list of the most expensive domain sales yet with sale prices of $47m (2010) and $37m (2010), respectively.
A peek under the hood of the DNA URL land-grab reveals many are already speculating on this future. The URL ‘genomical.com’ boasts a price tag of $15k. The number and variety of other URLs that are already claimed and up for investment re-sale is shocking.
At the low end, there are URLs like: DNA101.com ($500), dnadoublehelix ($988) and dnabusiness ($1500), deoxyribonucleicacid.com ($1950), dnatrader.com ($2295), dnaprotection ($2895), dnapool.com ($3588), and dnaworld ($13k). More dear is humangenome.com, which is up for auction at a minimum bid of $25k. dnaculture.com bears double the asking price ($50k). The owner of genomics.com is entertaining offers upwards of $200k. Genomematch.com, DNAsearch.com, and DNAmatch.com are available for $180, $500k and $750k, respectively. Whether such prices are in line with demand or purely aspirations is yet to be seen. Imagine though, the worth of generic URLs such as DNA.com, genome.com, DNAtesting.com.
Such levels of URL saturation is a small but essential first hint of what might come. More important, obviously, is content and function. What will matter most in the long run is the creation and support of new ways to use genomics to bring about positive changes in society that help people.
It is interesting to speculate what this DNA URL portfolio might look like – and be worth – in 50 years. What advances will help researchers and the public, alike? Before it was co-opted to mean exceptionally large, genomically meant ‘of or pertaining to genomes’. Genomically speaking, it will likely be genomically large. Will you one day use it to access your genomic profile as easily as you shop online at Amazon today?
Featured image credit: Keyboard, by geralt. Public domain via Pixabay.