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Contxto – From Portuguese to Japanese to Amerindian to African ancestry, Brazil is known, alongside South Africa, as a rainbow nation. It is a multicultural country with a smorgasbord of genetic diversity.
For those Brazilians curious about their cultural heritage, now they can take an at-home DNA test thanks to Mendelics. The Brazilian laboratory recently launched meuDNA, the first testing kit to hit the market in Latin America’s largest country.
DNA as a Service
The kit’s name translates to “My DNA” from Portuguese. It is the love-child of Mendelics and its newly acquired R$45 million (about US$10.6 million) from MCLC4 in a recent financial round. What this new initiative boils down to is the promotion of unhindered access to genetic data. In other words, “DNA as a service!”
Of course, that claim opens a whole Pandora’s genome of questions. Namely, if DNA can be a service; can it also be a product? And, furthermore, how will Brazilian regulation stand up to questions of ownership of people’s own genetic material? If I take this test, does a company own my most private and basic information?
This last question is particularly troubling in the face of a Brazilian State in control of right-wing nationalist government’s hands. President Jair Bolsonaro is indeed infamous for his disparaging comments regarding indigenous and Afro-Brazilians.
Unsurprisingly, David Schlesinger, CEO and co-founder of Mendelics, paints a rose-tinted picture on this whole issue. “Our main goal is to democratize access to genetic information so that every person can have the opportunity to know more about themselves and take better care of their health,” said the genetic-entrepreneur.
Though “democratizing” may be a strong word, this last point is certainly true. Leveraging AI to identify patterns in DNA samples, the company has developed its own proprietary program known as Abracadabra to facilitate its collection process. This way, the lab will be better able to diagnose and identify diseases.
Six-degrees of Kevin Bacon’s grandparents
Similar to Ancestry.com or 23andMe, users can gather eight generations’ worth of data from the kit. They are not even required to go to a laboratory or the doctor’s office. It is an at-home procedure that can reveal information pertaining to one’s great-grandparents’ great-great-grandparents.
Once users purchase the product from www.meudna.com, all they need to do is collect a saliva sample with the cotton swab and small test tube. From there, all they need to do is send the sample to Mendelics for processing.
Whether we realize it or not, DNA is omnipresent throughout our bodies, so even a saliva sample will suffice.
“DNA is present in every cell in the body,” said Cesário Martins, the executive responsible for the launch at Mendelics. “Upon receiving the sample, our team of scientists reads, as well as translates, what is written in this code. Within six weeks, a person receives a detailed report showing their genetic origin compared to populations around the world.”
DNA testing in Latin America
Since its 2012 inception, Mendelics has reportedly evolved into the largest DNA sample-processing laboratory in Latin America. Furnished with state-of-the-art facilities, it has gradually acquired one petabyte—that is, a one with 15 zeros after it in bytes—of patient data to improve its algorithm for diagnoses.
Breaking that down again, that’s one petabyte or 1024 terabytes or a million gigabytes. We’re all probably incapable of conceiving that amount of information, but either way, that’s a lot of knowledge within one lab’s database. From this amount, the lab has also analyzed over 70,000 DNA sequences.
Part of this process involves leveraging both the Illumina HiSeq sequencers and NovaSeq 6000, technology permitting simultaneous analysis.