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Open source DNA
Date:8/31/2009

In the chilling science fiction movie Gattaca, Ethan Hawke stars as a man with "inferior genes" who assumes another's genetic identity to escape a dead-end future. The 1997 film illustrates the very real fear swirling around today's genome research fear that private genetic information could be used negatively against us.

Last year, after a published paper found serious security holes in the way DNA data is made publicly available, health institutes in the United States and across the world removed all genetic data from public access.

"Unfortunately, that knee-jerk response stymied potential breakthrough genetic research," says Dr. Eran Halperin of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology. He wants to put this valuable DNA information back in circulation, and has developed the tool to do it safely.

Working with colleagues at the University of California in Berkeley, Dr. Halperin devised a mathematical formula that can be used to protect genetic privacy while giving researchers much of the raw data they need to do pioneering medical research. Reported in this month's issue of Nature Genetics, the tool could keep millions of research dollars-worth of DNA information available to scientists.

New security to restart genetic research

"We've developed a mathematical formula and a software solution that ensures that malicious eyes will have a very low chance to identify individuals in any study," says Dr. Halperin, who is also affiliated with the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley.

The mathematical formula that Dr. Halperin's team devised can determine which SNPs ― or small pieces of DNA - that differ from individual to individual in the human population ― are accessible to the public without revealing information about the participation of any individual in the study. Using computer
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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