NEW LIFE FOR BANKING
There's no money in this bank at all!
If forecasts prove correct this could turn out to be the world’s most valuable bank. DNAture World Inc was launched yesterday as the world’s most ambitious project yet to keep your genetic information secure and available for trade.
Based not in the City of London, but in the lush green countryside of Berkshire, the launch was a celebrity event dominated by the stars of next week’s Wimbledon champion-ships.
DNAture World Inc promises completely secure storage of your individual genetic blueprint, plus direct personal access via your mobile phone. Your physician can have direct access to part of this information. You can even store information to build your own stem cells to regrow failing body parts.
On the ‘investment’ side, DNAture offers to trade parts of your genetic information for drug research purposes. You can share directly in any financial return should the project result in new findings or drugs.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
All you need is a strand of hair or a flake of skin. One single cell of our DNA contains our complete genetic blueprint. Is that a comforting or a threatening thought? Who owns the information? The owner of the strand of hair, or a drugs company using it for research to cure cancer? And who benefits from the information?
1953: DNA structure defined
On February 28th, British scientists Francis Crick and James Watson walk into the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England, and announce that they have, “found the secret of life”. Actually, they had. That morning, Crick and Watson had figured out the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid – DNA. And that structure – a “double helix” that can “unzip” to make copies of itself – confirmed suspicions that DNA carries life’s hereditary information.
1986: Plan to unlock Human Genome
The plan for the project to unlock the Human Genome is announced. Six countries – China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and US – will work together, although the US and the UK account for 90% of the research.
1999: Iceland DNA issue
With a small majority, the government of Iceland passes a law authorizing the collection and processing of the medical and genetic data of the entire population. Almost all Iceland’s 270,000 residents descend from one single progenitor group and can trace their family back 1,000 years to the Vikings – which makes them a unique study group. In return for this database, Decode Genetics (partnering with Hoffman-La Roche) promises the islanders free access to any drugs produced through the effort.
Later that year, Icelanders gun for ‘genetic disobedience’ threatening to remove their DNA samples. They feel the government has removed their entire Icelandic heritage ‘under false pretences’. They aren’t happy with just a financial share of the profits – they want their genetic information back.
2000: Problems with harnessing genetic information
It is clear that there is big money to be made out of harnessing the genetic information of individuals, animals and whole communities in order to advance drug research and to accelerate the diagnosis of disease. But, as the commercial imperative strengthens, so do the legal arguments.
2003: Human Genome Project complete
On April 14th, the world press announces the completion of the Human Genome Project. 99.99% of the gene-containing part of human DNA sequence is finished to 99.99% accuracy. Hundreds of scientists from six countries have worked together to achieve this goal.
The human genome is unlocked, but amidst the excitement, legal arguments are raging. Technical problems, commercial restrictions and political wrangling impede progress.
Scientists at King’s College, London and the University of Edinburgh donate tissue to a new embryonic stem cell university research bank. Their hope is that it will be government-funded. This is a milestone for medical researchers. The UK offers a more favorable climate for stem cell research than most countries. Researchers from outside the UK offer their cell lines to the bank. Companies can buy the cell lines at commercial rates; academics can purchase them at nominal rates.
In July, the UK Biobank is launched with £45 million funding. Half a million people in Britain, picked at random, will be asked to have a provide information on lifestyle, and have a blood test to donate their DNA. The database will be stored at the University of Manchester. But how safe will this information be?
In the USA, small ‘biorepositories’ increase in number. For $50 these businesses will keep your DNA profile for 15 years. They market this service on the basis of paternity and will claims, and social security fraud.
There is public unease: is our DNA safe? What will the research companies do with it? People wonder if they may need their DNA profile. What happens if it is stolen? Cells banked for one purpose, such as medical diagnosis, are shared with or sold to other users for research or profit. Whilst most people are in principle keen to aid research, they also want to benefit personally, lest a body part fails and needs replacing. And, if there is money to be made, they want their share. At the very least people want a sense of ownership of their own DNA.
In October, the genome on a chip arrives. With pieces of all 30,000 or so known human genes, the new integrated gene chips, or microarrays, will allow scientists to scan all genes in a human tissue sample at once to determine which genes are active (turned on) in an organ compared with those active in a healthy organ. Pharmaceutical companies will use them to predict drug effects. This previously required two or more chips. The new whole-genome chips will lower the cost and increase the speed of testing to achieve the genomics equivalent of Moore’s Law.
2005: DNA blueprints
DNA profile booths emerge in Japan, Europe and the USA, offering to ‘Get your DNA blueprint today’. Digital photography has replaced the photographic ‘film’ business and DNA booths are the natural way for photo booths to migrate into the new market.
Taking a DNA blueprint becomes as simple as taking a photograph. As with drugs testing for athletes, people take at least two DNA profiles from different sources, to authenticate their profiles.
2006: DNA Profiles private property
Photo booth businesses in the USA, UK, Germany, France, South Africa and China, are acquired and consolidated by a mysterious American billionaire. The new company is sold in December as a global retail outlet to the DNAture Group.
There are several legal precedents pertaining to the ownership and rights to personal genetic information, this year. Hairdressers are forced to sign contracts protecting their clients’ ‘genetic anonymity’ in the disposal of unwanted hair. Dentists have to guarantee removed teeth are properly destroyed. Hospitals and doctors’ surgeries have to ensure total disposal of all human tissue.
From here it is a small step to persuade people to keep their individual DNA profiles safe in a bank, and to know they could benefit from their use, financially and medically.
2007: Safeguarding DNA records>
DNAture a subsidiary of Deloitte, opens its ambitious new venture into assuring personal privacy and security for the BioEconomy. As one of the world’s most respected audit firms, Deloitte’s interest has arisen through its multiple audit exposures at DNA banks (private, university and pharmaceuticals).
Backed by Deloitte, DNAture guarantees to keep records secure and not to release information without consent. At last the public has control over the information stored about it. The value proposition – sharing the financial reward – proves attractive to the public. Who ever thought that auditing would lead to this?
Links to related stories
- ‘Stem Cell Banking’, New Scientist, Vol 177, January 4th, 2003
- ‘DNA Diagnostics Center – example of a biorepository business
- ‘Who owns the Genetic Genome?’ Should private companies be granted rights on the human genome?’ Professor Richard Epstein, University of Chicago, 2003
- ‘Pioneer DNA Bank to Examine Lifestyles’ – The Observer, July 27th, 2003
- 'Keeping Secrets' - As DNA banks quietly multiply, who is guarding the safe? US News.com, December 12th, 2002
- ‘Banking On Your Genes’ – Will you be joining the UK Biobank? - The Observer, July 27th, 2003
- 'The Right to Genetic Disobedience: the Iceland Case’, Amedeo Santosuosso
- US website for the Human Genome Project
- ‘Human Genome on Chip Offered by Rivals’ – the human genome chip has arrived. New York Times, October 2nd, 2003
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.