Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Stealthy Genome

While encryption approaches can make personal genomic data secure, they also tend to render it unusable for research, but as Science Now reports, a new method called homomorphic encryption may enable genomic data to stay private and still be usable for researchers. The encryption method was presented at the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. (AAAS publishes Science Now.)

The approach, Science Now notes, is enabled by lattice-based cryptography, a genometry-based encryption method. Homomorphic encryption lets computers analyze and return encrypted data, all without actually decoding the data. Kristin Lauter, a cryptologist at Microsoft Research, tells Science Now that it's like a jeweler working with a brick of gold that's locked in a safe by using gloves embedded in the side of the box.

The drawback, though, is a longer computation time, though researchers are tweaking the approach to increase speed.

Sage Bionetwork's John Wilbanks notes, though, that it's impossible to keep genetic data fully secure. "In 50 years the cost of genome sequencing is expected to be very low," he says. "If there's a copy of your genome out there that's heavily encrypted, it would just be better for me to shake hands with you and take some of your genetic material."