Realizing the potential of blockchain technologies in genomics

Genome Res. 2018 Sep;28(9):1255-1263. doi: 10.1101/gr.207464.116. Epub 2018 Aug 3.


Genomics data introduce a substantial computational burden as well as data privacy and ownership issues. Data sets generated by high-throughput sequencing platforms require immense amounts of computational resources to align to reference genomes and to call and annotate genomic variants. This problem is even more pronounced if reanalysis is needed for new versions of reference genomes, which may impose high loads to existing computational infrastructures. Additionally, after the compute-intensive analyses are completed, the results are either kept in centralized repositories with access control, or distributed among stakeholders using standard file transfer protocols. This imposes two main problems: (1) Centralized servers become gatekeepers of the data, essentially acting as an unnecessary mediator between the actual data owners and data users; and (2) servers may create single points of failure both in terms of service availability and data privacy. Therefore, there is a need for secure and decentralized platforms for data distribution with user-level data governance. A new technology, blockchain, may help ameliorate some of these problems. In broad terms, the blockchain technology enables decentralized, immutable, incorruptible public ledgers. In this Perspective, we aim to introduce current developments toward using blockchain to address several problems in omics, and to provide an outlook of possible future implications of the blockchain technology to life sciences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Big Data
  • Data Anonymization*
  • Genome, Human
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Genomics / standards
  • Genomics / trends
  • Humans