Storing Gene Sequencing in the Cloud: Genius or Dangerous?
With individual consumers now able to store their genetic data on the same type of commercial cloud servers available to researchers, it’s critical to understand all the pros and cons of this storage method before you decide whether you’re comfortable storing your private genetic information in the cloud.
Benefits of cloud storage
One complete human genome requires about 100 gigabytes of storage space. Storing, transferring and downloading this amount of data can make it impossible for researchers, much less the average consumer, to do much with the data. Even if you have your genome cleaned up and stripped down to the most useful information it contains, you’re still looking at about a gigabyte, which remains about 100 times larger than many email programs can easily send.
Until the cloud.
Thanks to retail and search giants like Amazon Web Services and Google stepping in to offer cloud storage space for human genomes, there’s no longer a need to attempt to download all that data to your server or try—and fail—to email it. While this is certainly good news for genomic scientists performing research, it also makes consumer applications of the genome possible.
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and order a whole or partial genome sequence for yourself or the members of your family, cloud storage will cost about $25 per year for each complete genome you store in the cloud. When you’ve had extraneous genomic information for your purposes stripped out of the data, you could pay as little as a quarter per year to store a single cleaned-up genome in the cloud. Although additional fees apply for manipulation of the data within the cloud, this still creates an environment where consumers can take control of their genetic data and bring in any experts they want to work with it.
Security concerns with cloud storage
Despite all the benefits that a cloud service provides for genomic storage and research, it comes with one impossible-to-ignore drawback: security. In recent years, computer hackers have stolen the health records of millions of customers of insurance companies. And while the commercial cloud service providers have not experienced that scale of attack, it’s a pretty good bet that hackers will try to crack their security as well.
Making decisions about your genetic data
As it currently stands, you can’t be fired from your job or denied health insurance because of anything found during genetic testing. You can, however, be denied coverage or charged a much higher premium for life insurance, long-term care insurance or long-term disability insurance. If you stored your family’s genome within the cloud and it was hacked or accidentally leaked and became known to insurers, it’s possible your insurability could be at risk.
It’s also important to remember that no one knows what additional discoveries are lurking within the human genome or what kind of regulatory climate we could live in when those discoveries come to light. This makes it critical to carefully consider the current and potential future implications of having your genome on the cloud with the risk of a data breach before you decide whether to order a whole genome sequence for your personal use or to participate in a genetic study where your information will be stored in a cloud environment.