University of California, Irvine, computer scientists have developed a genomic app that conducts on-the-spot paternity tests and holds potential for personalized medicine.
The software platform, or personal genomic toolkit, is called GenoDroid, and the actual Android app is named Pater Noster, which means "our father" in Latin.
GenoDroid uses advanced encryption techniques to preserve the privacy of people's DNA.
"It doesn't do magic," Gene Tsudik, UC Irvine professor of computer science told eWEEK. "It just shows that today it's practical to run privacy-preserving genomic applications [and] operations, on modern smartphones—these ubiquitous personal devices."
Tsudik leads a group of faculty and students and visitors in applied cryptography, computer/network security and privacy as part of Security and Privacy Research Outfit (SPROUT) at UC Irvine.
He designed the smartphone app along with Emiliano De Cristofaro of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and a UC Irvine doctoral program graduate; UC Irvine Ph.D. candidate Sky Faber and Paolo Gasti, assistant professor at the New York Institute of Technology and a former UC Irvine postdoctoral researcher.
DNA extracted from skin, hair or body fluids holds clues to genetic dispositions such as diseases, personality, eye color, hair color and height, Tsudik noted.
Most of the genomic data would be storage on a PC or a laptop, said Tsudik.
The scientists tested the the app with publicly available genomic data. It can determine in less than a second whether one person is the father of another.
"What we do is we extract certain information from the DNA that is necessary to run a paternity test, so you don't actually need the entire genome to run a paternity test," he explained.
"The paternity test app compares the lengths of specific DNA segments from two individuals to determine how many of them match in the two samples," said Tsudik.
With the growing options for genomic sequencing, maintaining privacy of the data is essential, and promoting and protecting the privacy of a person's DNA is the main goal of the application, he said.
Cryptographic and encryption techniques protect the data during the paternity test on the app, according to Tsudik. A test algorithm decrypts and compares the DNA.
The app's "double-blind" technique only indicates a match or no match and doesn't reveal any other details about the DNA.
"Privacy of genomic information is really, really important," he said. "It is possible to get privacy and still do these kinds of genomic operations."
If DNA falls into the wrong hands and various parties, such as an employer or car insurance company, find out about a person's temper, for example, it could be detrimental, Tsudik suggested.
Currently the app is limited to a quick paternity test, but its functionality will be expanded when DNA digitalization become commonplace.
"We are working on extending it to privacy-preserving maternity and more general ancestry tests," said Tsudik. Eventually, it could determine the likelihood of being born with an illness such as Down syndrome and be able to help biologists customize cancer-fighting drugs, he said.