What is DNA, and why should you care?
Remember when GPS was only used to get from Point A to Point B? It powered our maps and was useful for location coordinates, but that was about all. Fast forward a decade or so, and the world has changed. Today, GPS is everywhere, powering apps we use in our everyday lives. These apps help us hail rides, give us restaurant recommendations, find us dates, and even help us catch Pokemon. We’re far beyond the basic location-based use cases first developed just a few years ago. We believe that genomics is following a similar path. The information we gather from our DNA will be far more than mere biological coordinates. Instead, it will impact many parts of our everyday lives.
DNA is the genetic material found in all humans. It is the biological blueprint passed from parents to their children, and the key to what makes each of us unique. DNA plays an important role in determining our physical features, our health, and even our behavioral traits. Most of us have heard how DNA can be used to help diagnose severe illness, but that’s just the tip of a very important iceberg. Understanding your DNA can unlock a vast amount of information about your healthy self — whether you’re prone to those illnesses in the first place, how your body metabolizes certain nutrients, or where your ancestors come from. DNA plays a role in every part of our lives, and we’re just starting to use this information to make better decisions in our life and discover new things about ourselves.
The science and technology behind DNA sequencing has evolved rapidly over the last decade, making personal genomics affordable and accessible. From an easy saliva sample, scientists can evaluate your DNA to help you plan for a baby, deliver nutrition guidance based on your genetic make-up, learn about predispositions for specific illnesses, or even predict your facial features. Similar to how there are universal screenings today for mammograms and colonoscopies, DNA information will eventually be implemented into regular health check-ups.
That said, genomics isn’t your destiny.
DNA is one part of who you are—a big part—but it’s still only one piece of the puzzle. Just because you are predisposed to an illness doesn’t mean you’ll contract it. But by understanding your DNA you could learn that you should be screened earlier and more frequently for a disease or to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent an issue from developing.
Information isn’t destiny—it’s empowerment. I’ve worked my entire professional life to help bring personal genomics to a broader population, so that people can use DNA to discover more about themselves. This is the next big advancement in genomics: the power to make informed and personalized decisions, and take action where appropriate.
You can make what you want of your DNA information and determine how much you want it to affect different parts of your life. Take gluten intolerance, for example. Your food related symptoms may be related to variation in a specific region of your DNA which is involved with the immune system. However, if you don’t have the DNA variants, you can rule out gluten intolerance as the likely culprit for your symptoms.
Understanding your DNA.
A rapid drop in the cost of genome sequencing over the last decade has enabled greater utilization of DNA information. As DNA information becomes more accessible, products integrating genetic information will begin to focus on how to educate, engage, and guide people to make better decisions based on their DNA. Helix is building an ecosystem of trusted doctors, wellness experts, and consumer brands so that you’ll be armed with clear analysis of how your DNA variation integrates with your everyday life. Take, for example, the “sprinter” gene, which is a variant more often found in elite sprinters than in regular Joes. While it’s possible (but unlikely) that with a disciplined training program you might find yourself in the next Olympics, more realistically, a physical trainer may be able to use this information along with other information about your body to help you maximize the effects of your workouts.
Today’s cutting edge; tomorrow’s everyday experience.
There’s been an exponential increase in what we understand about DNA; however, these learnings are primarily focused on disease and research. But that’s starting to change. Moving forward, combining DNA with datasets focused on healthy behaviors, such as fitness and diet tracking, will allow for better decision making around wellness. These datasets will combine with new delivery formats such as mobile phones and technologies like machine learning to make DNA recommendations truly personal. We’ll learn the right mode, right moment, and right place to help every person make better decisions. Imagine a future where a travel app suggests traveling to the specific towns where your ancestors came from or a future where there’s no need to ask for lactose-free pizza when ordering, because the food delivery app already knows you have an intolerance.
We aren’t that far away from this future. The science is already here, today, and continuing to grow. In the past several years we have developed novel ways to learn more about ourselves. But we’re only at the beginning of the journey. Like the location services that work behind the scenes in Uber, Yelp, Tinder, and Pokemon Go to deliver delightful products based on where you are, we are entering a world where your DNA will be working behind the scenes to deliver delightful products and services based on who you are.