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Keep It Secret

By adapting a cryptographic tool, researchers hope to allow for more widespread genomic analysis while keeping people's genetic sequences private, as Scientific American reports.

While there are some protections in place to prevent genetic discrimination, people still worry about the ramifications of having their genetic data easily accessible. At the same time, though, easy access to such data helps fuel studies into disease.

As they reported recently in Science, Stanford University's Gil Bejerano, a geneticist, teamed up with cryptographer Dan Boneh, also at Stanford, to use a cryptographic technique called Yao's protocol to analyze different genomic datasets, while keeping at least 97 percent of the participants' genomic data secure.

"Cryptography lets you do a lot of things like [secure multiparty computation] — keep data hidden and still operate on that data," Boneh tells Scientific American.

However, Sciam notes that other cryptographic techniques haven't caught on because they can be cumbersome. It adds that many genomics efforts are aimed at diagnosing patients and anything that slows that process down may be skirted. "It's great to have it as a tool in the toolbox," Columbia University's Yaniv Erlich tells Sciam, "but my sense…is that the field is not going in this direction."