SmartphoneIf you thought that DNA testing was the preserve of criminal investigations, laboratories and downmarket TV talk shows, you could be in for a surprise; new developments in the world of DNA testing are making it possible that one day we’ll be able to carry out our own genetic research on a smart phone.

Remember when the human genome was first decoded, around a decade ago? The project took scientists eight years back in the depths of the early noughties, but technology has moved on in leaps and bounds since the turn of the century.  Remember when the desirability factor of a mobile phone depended upon how small it was? And how excited we were when phones got built-in cameras?

It’s true that you can get hold of sophisticated genetic sequencing if you’re prepared to pay for it, and you have at least twenty-four hours to wait. Even though the price is coming down gradually, it’s not an option open to everyone.

It would be fascinating to be able to analyse your own DNA, cheaply and quickly – and there’s now an app which can do just that. Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have come up with a website and app called GeneG which gives you the option to “Take your genome home and look at it.”

The app was developed by Noam Shomron together with graduate students Ofer Isakov and Gershon Celniker, and healthcare professionals will be able to test it out later in October 2013. The public launch will follow soon afterwards.

So, how does it work? The idea behind the app is to make genome testing as routine as blood testing. At the moment, if you wanted to have a DNA test carried out, you would have to send samples off to a laboratory (unless you preferred to appear on a downmarket chat show and then they might be able to get it tested for you.) The process can take a few weeks in some cases, and involves blood tests and visits to a clinic.

However, if you’ve already had your genome investigated, everything is much easier and faster.

Once you have had your genome sequenced, you can upload it to the website, and add information gleaned from any of the digital genetic tests that check for genetic information about diseases, physical characteristics and more. This can all be added with a swipe of a smart phone.

Shomron believes that the app has many potential uses; scientists have already predicted that when people start to get hold of and understand their own genetic make-up, they will become more demanding, looking for solutions to illnesses and issues that suit their particular genetics. The information will only be divulged to the user and whoever they choose to share it with – there’s no suggestion that insurance companies or even doctors will have access to individuals’ private genome results.

In the future, it could be possible to tailor existing medicines to the patients who need them on a genetic level, by making sure that anything that could potentially be harmful to them is left out. It will even be possible to use the information to help develop new remedies, using individual information provided by users of the app and website.

So, these are exciting times for anyone with an interest in finding out about their own DNA – it could soon be possible to find out exactly what you’re made of…

Written by Alexandra Johnson in conjunction with Cellmark DNA Testing.

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