How the Cloud Is Improving DNA Sequencing

Kayla Matthews

DNA Sequencing

For many of us, the cloud is part of our daily lives.

We use these virtual storage servers to hold our pictures, our memories and our work documents, just to name a few. Cloud storage is also making its mark in the medical industry, with electronic health records making patient care easier no matter where you’re making your appointments.

This utilization of virtual information storage is also being used to improve the speed and accuracy of DNA sequencing. How can cloud storage change the way we look at DNA?

The Importance of DNA Sequencing

dna sequencingDNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the smallest building block of life. It’s found in almost all living things on the planet. Your DNA, found in every cell in your body, holds the blueprint that governs why you are the way you are.

Do you have red hair, or blue eyes? That’s written into your DNA. Are you tall, short, fat, skinny or athletic? You guessed it — that’s written into your DNA as well. Do you hate cilantro and think it tastes like soap? Believe it or not, that’s something that’s written into your DNA too.

In that DNA blueprint, there are answers to thousands of questions that we’ve been posing for centuries, including things like how long we’ll live, what diseases we may be predisposed to, and many others. That is where DNA sequencing comes in.

To stick with our same metaphor from a moment ago, you wouldn’t be able to read a blueprint without a key to tell you what different symbols mean, right? DNA sequencing provides researchers with the key to our DNA blueprint. By learning the order of the four base amino acids that make up DNA, researchers can determine which combinations of genes produce what result.

Old Tech, New Tech

Until now, DNA sequencing was performed on non-networked computers. While breakthroughs were being made, they were limited by the small subset of information available and the insufficient computer processing speeds. In other words, individual computers used for DNA sequencing are limited by the amount of processing power that they can possess.

Moore’s Law, coined by Gordon Moore — one of the founders of Intel — suggests that computers are limited by the number of transistors that can be placed on a single chip. He stated that this number would likely double every two years, and all current trends show that even with today’s advances, Moore’s Law still holds true.

Advances in DNA sequencing are appearing exponentially, and in many cases are only being limited by the available processing power.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics, or the study of patterns to make predictions, has already made its way into the medical fields. When applied to DNA sequencing, it’s often dubbed Predictive Genomics. Cloud computing is a key component in the success of predictive genomics for a variety of reasons, including:

  • The amount of data — The sheer amount of data in one human being’s genome is almost mind-boggling. Each individual’s genome has up to 25,000 genes. These genes are made up of almost 3 million base pairs. When you break that down into digital data, you’re looking at upwards of 100 gigabytes of data per person.
  • The cost — Right now, having your personal genetic code sequenced costs between $1,500 and $4,000. This also plays a large role in the high cost of testing for specific genetic markers, like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that indicate a higher chance of breast cancer.

The use of cloud computing and predictive genomics can reduce costs, ensure quality and improve accuracy throughout the world of DNA sequencing.

Amazon, our favorite online shopping mall, is doing what they can to help in the world of cloud computing and genomics. Amazon Web Services provides a cloud computing service that a number of companies, including DNAnexus and Helix, are using to improve the speed and accuracy of their genome sequencing.

There’s an App for That

While sending off a saliva-soaked q-tip to have your DNA tested isn’t a new concept, this is the first time it’s heading to both the cloud and the App Store.

A new startup from Silicon Valley named Helix has recently hit the DNA sequencing market with a new twist on the DNA game. Now, not only can you have your DNA tested for all sorts of information, but you can also have your genetic ancestry analyzed by the minds at National Geographic.

As the icing on the cake, all of your information will be stored on the cloud and accessible through Helix’s app.

Cloud computing is becoming an invaluable tool for a variety of different industries, with DNA sequencing as just the latest in a long line of innovations. As this advancement becomes more mainstream, only time will tell what secrets our DNA holds, and what we’ll be able to do with them once we find them.

By Kayla Matthews

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