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OneZero
The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.

Dna

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In very meta news, Netflix says it has stored an episode of its new show Biohackers in DNA. It’s a first for the streaming service, which partnered with San Francisco biotech company Twist Bioscience and Robert Grass, a professor of chemistry and applied biosciences at ETH Zurich, to do so. The fictional German language series, which debuted in August, explores the futuristic possibilities of engineering biology.

To store data in DNA, a data file is first converted from its binary code of 0s and 1s into the four building blocks of DNA — A, C, G, and T. Those letters…


A major data breach shows genetic information is vulnerable to attack

A close up of a gloved hand holding up a DNA autoradiogram next to a petri dish to illustrate genetic research.
A close up of a gloved hand holding up a DNA autoradiogram next to a petri dish to illustrate genetic research.
Photo: Tek Image/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

On the morning of July 19, hackers accessed the online DNA database GEDmatch and temporarily allowed police to search the profiles of more than 1 million users that were previously not accessible to law enforcement. GEDmatch is a genealogy tool that allows users to upload their DNA profiles generated from genetic testing services like 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage and search for relatives.

It took three hours until GEDmatch became aware of the breach and pulled the site offline completely. Users have to give permission for their profiles to be included in police searches, but the breach overrode privacy settings and…


Reengineering Life

17 years after the Human Genome Project, researchers unlocked the X chromosome

Photo illustration of X chromosomes against a background of wispy DNA helices.
Photo illustration of X chromosomes against a background of wispy DNA helices.
Photo illustration; Image source: Science Photo Library — SCIEPRO

Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

By the time the Human Genome Project ended its 13-year run in 2003, it had mapped about 90% of our entire genetic code. But some of the remaining parts have proved difficult to decode. As DNA reading technology has improved over the years, those gaps are gradually filling in and researchers are getting closer to building a complete picture of the genome. …


Reengineering Life

The experiment raises major safety concerns for gene-edited babies

Photo illustration, sources: Wellcome Trust, ZEPHYR/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Reengineering Life is a column from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.

A team of scientists has used the gene-editing technique CRISPR to create genetically altered human embryos in a London lab, and the results of the experiment do not bode well for the prospect of gene-edited babies.

Biologist Kathy Niakan and her team at the Francis Crick Institute wanted to better understand the role of a particular gene in the earliest stages of human development. So, using CRISPR, they deleted that gene in human embryos that had been donated for…


Consumer DNA databases are a powerful new tool for police

Illustration: Wenkai Mao

Like most people who take a 23andMe test, Georgia resident Jessi Johnson Still was curious about her ancestry when she spit into a tube and mailed it away to get her DNA analyzed.

After getting her results back, she uploaded her DNA data to a website called GEDmatch that lets people explore their family tree in more detail. She had heard that police used it to catch the suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, and she thought maybe her DNA could eventually help solve a crime, too.

Just two months later, in June 2019, Still got an email from…


It’s the first time the gene-editing tool has been used inside the human body

Photo: Rolando Caponi/EyeEm/Getty Images

Scientists have used the gene-editing technique CRISPR in an attempt to restore vision in a patient with a type of inherited blindness, researchers announced last week.

The experimental treatment is meant to snip out a genetic mutation that causes severe visual impairment, often starting at birth. It also marks the first time doctors have used CRISPR directly inside a person’s body. In a few weeks, they hope to know whether the treatment is working. If it works and is safe, it opens up the possibility of using CRISPR against many more conditions.

CRISPR is a powerful technique often likened to…


Nebula Genomics is offering access to your entire genetic makeup for less than the price of an Apple Watch

A sequencing chromatograph showing a DNA sequence and a sample of DNA from the human genome mapping project.
A sequencing chromatograph showing a DNA sequence and a sample of DNA from the human genome mapping project.
Photo: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images

Genome sequencing was once impossibly expensive. The Human Genome Project, an international effort to decode the human genome that launched in 1990, took 13 years and an estimated $2.7 billion to complete. Then, in 2007, DNA pioneer James Watson became the first person to get his genome sequenced for less than $1 million. Since then, the cost of genome sequencing has been decreasing at a rate faster than Moore’s law.

Now, Nebula Genomics, a spinout of Harvard University co-founded by geneticist George Church, is launching an at-home whole genome sequencing test for less than the price of the latest Apple…


An anonymous group claims it took DNA from global elites — and is auctioning it off

Images: EARNE$T

If you had Donald Trump’s DNA, what would you do with it?

The idea isn’t as outlandish as it may seem: An anonymous organization called the Earnest Project is offering the chance to own DNA samples of a handful of world leaders and celebrities. The group claims it has surreptitiously collected items discarded by attendees of the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that may contain their DNA. President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Elton John all attended the conference.

The group has compiled these artifacts — napkins, paper coffee cups, a glass parfait…


23andMe and Ancestry are losing sales and laying off workers

A vile being filled by a pippet in a genetics laboratory.
A vile being filled by a pippet in a genetics laboratory.
Photo: Phil Carrick/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

For the past few years, it seemed like everyone and their mom was buying an at-home DNA testing kit. Millions of people bought tests from 23andMe, Ancestry, and other companies to learn about their heritage, connect with long-lost relatives, and discover their risk of certain medical conditions. People ordered them in droves for holiday and birthday gifts, and others bought 23andMe tests at Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart while getting their prescriptions filled.

But now, the enthusiasm for consumer DNA tests is waning. Sales of DNA kits have slowed, and in January, 23andMe said it was laying off 100 employees, about…


Facing a storage crisis, the U.S. is investing $48 million to turn DNA into living hard drives

Interior of a futuristic data center server room.
Interior of a futuristic data center server room.
Photo: imaginima/E+/Getty Images

Around the world, warehouses the size of several football fields store millions of hard drives’ worth of data. Every time we send an email, search Google, upload photos to Facebook, or stream a movie on Netflix — which is to say, all the time — those hard drives are put to work.

Big tech is building more of these sprawling data centers to keep up with the massive growth in data needs. But we are generating so much digital data that our current storage systems won’t be able to keep up for long. Already, large-scale U.S. …

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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.

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