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The Genomics Leak

There's been a number of stories in the news about leaks of classified data, and Steven Brenner from the University of California, Berkeley, writes in a Nature column that release of genomic data could be coming and that researchers and their institutions should be prepared for such an event.

"How long will it be until an idealistic and technically literate researcher deliberately releases genome and trait information publicly in the name of open science?" he asks.

Brenner writes that such a leak — even if it is of information that could be garnered from a web search — could lead to fewer people taking part in genomic research. "Research might even be subject to moratoriums and prohibitive restrictions," he adds.

Before it gets to that point, he says that steps should be put in place to ease the effects of any fallout due to a leak of data. For example, Brenner suggests that funders develop and implement mechanisms to quickly inform participants of any such data leaks. In addition, he says, to prevent data release, uniform standards and training should be put in place to keep data as secure as possible.

"Most importantly, we must ensure that the necessary discussion about the risks of a genome leak is balanced with information about the tremendous benefits that collected genetic information has for all of us," Brenner adds. "Although the acceleration and promise of genomics makes a leak inevitable, it also guarantees medical progress."