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Are you my father? There’s an app for that

Will GenoDroid allow you to be able to compare DNA just by bumping cell phones?
Will GenoDroid allow you to be able to compare DNA just by bumping cell phones?

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It’s a given these days that your phone has become, for better or worse, as much a part of you as your eye color. But could it actually carry your DNA?  Yes, say researchers at University of California’s computer sciences department.  They’ve developed a smartphone app that will eventually be able to store your entire genome, giving you the ability to read, share and swap genetic information with your doctor or even a potential marriage partner.

Genetic information can currently be obtained from companies like 23&Me for a few hundred dollars; the GenoDroid would keep that code handy and encrypted, with only small sequences available on a “need to know” basis, such as managing your health care. The GenoDroid can instantly solve a paternity question or calculate the odds of you and a partner having a child with a genetic disease. The availability of such personal data, however, opens up the potential for mismanagement. How to keep your genome sequence from being revealed to insurance companies, employers or law enforcement?  Bumping phones on a first date might seem like fun, but what if it reveals that you and your new friend are genetically incompatible – or distantly related?  And if your DNA information is lost or stolen, you can’t just change it like you can your PIN number. Public policy, currently a patchwork of state-by-state rules, has yet to catch up with a workable solution for these and other questions.

Who is responsible if genetic privacy is breached? What would you like to know about your genetic profile? And who would you feel comfortable sharing it with?


Gene Tsudik, Ph.D, professor of computer science, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California at Irvine and one of the creators of the GenoDroid app

Jeremy Gruber, president, The  Council for Responsible Genetics