Berkeley professor: Genomic data leaks seem inevitable

As genomic data swells beyond expectations, researchers face a dilemma over how to secure the information on people's' DNA without stymying progress in the genomics revolution. In an opinion column in Nature, University of California, Berkeley, Professor Steven Brenner tackles the issue and lays out a set of potential solutions.

Are genomic data leaks inevitable? Brenner seems to think so. Such leaks could mean that data could be exploited at the expense of the person whose DNA info falls into the wrong hands. He suggests that researchers themselves could be the source of leaks, spilling genomic data into an accessible environment in the name of open science and progress.

"Some studies already gather the genetic data of more than 50,000 individuals in a single analysis," Brenner writes in Nature. "Although this information is supposed to be highly protected, it is disseminated to various institutions that have inconsistent security and privacy standards. In practice, data protection often comes down to individual scientists. Once leaked, these data would be virtually impossible to contain."

Genomic studies rely heavily on the confidence of participants in the researchers' ability to secure their data, he writes, and the consequences of a leak could include people deciding to opt out of such studies. Research institutions should consider standard practices for securing the data, among other measures.

- get more from Brenner's Nature column