Obtaining the lay of your genomic landscape is becoming easier and cheaper. A Twin Cities startup called Miinome wants to help you set up a security fence around this most personal of property—while providing a gate for salespeople you might want to drop in.
“We have organizations using all kinds of data about us to market to us,” says Miinome, Inc., co-founder Scott Fahrenkrug, an associate professor of genetics at the University of Minnesota. “So if you can predict behavior from genetics, then you can predict what kinds of products they might want.”
Here’s the business plan. You (the Miinome “member”) get free or low-cost genetic sequencing using epithelial cells from inside your mouth. Once your genome is sequenced, Miinome would keep this information safe for you, for free—unlike many sequencers who offer no such promises with the genomes they sequence, according to the company. Miinome’s customers, which might include food companies, retailers like Amazon.com, and even online matchmakers, pay Miinome for data on its members. You could choose to share a genetically influenced trait—say, gluten intolerance or disposition toward risk-taking, as part of that data “sale.” You’d be marketed to only if you chose to be.
“[Genetic] data is going to be generated,” Fahrenkrug says. “There will be folks out there that are taking that data and trying to market for all these applications we’ve been talking about. What really differentiates us is our perspective on the civil liberties side. We want this to be opt-in. [Other companies are] treating it like data,” he adds. “We want to treat it as your personal property.” Credibility is so paramount to Miinome that Harvard geneticist George Church will join the company as an advisor in 2013.