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Our coming DNA nightmare, as outlined by a dystopian graphic novel

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Back in 2011, the analyst Peter Sondergaard famously told the business world, “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” Since then, we’ve entered a new age of data harvesting, one where your social media profile, GPS coordinates, and even your face are fair game for corporations. The holy grail, however, isn’t going to be someone’s search history or shampoo preference—it’ll be their DNA.

That’s what authors Jay Webb and Biju Parekkadan foresee in their recent graphic novel, Legend of Sumeria. In their vision of a near-future dystopian society, a corporation called Nyima acquires a DNA ancestry company (think 23andMe or Ancestry.org), along with its huge database of genetic profiles. From there, all of that data is used to create a new social media platform-cum-genetic security system called the SEQ Network, which recommends products, services, and even romantic partners based on what inferences about people can be gleaned from their genetic profiles, and tracking everything—from users’ banking transactions to their location—using their DNA signatures.

It only took four months after Legend’s publication for their predictions to start coming true.

[Illustration: courtesy of Jay Webb, Dream Novels, LLC]On July 25th, 2018, the major pharmaceutical company Glaxo-SmithKline announced that it had bought a $300 million stake in 23andMe, the do-it-yourself DNA sequencing service. The new investment will allow GSK to access 23andMe’s DNA database to ostensibly develop new drugs, but there’s a lot more to be gained from this largely untapped well of biometric data.

Legend provides a blueprint for what comes next: the erasure of DNA privacy, a new industry where faux genetic science drives marketing, and a paradigm shift in how society views our genetic “destiny.”

For Parekkadan, a professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers University, the book isn’t just an exercise in science fiction but an urgent thought experiment. “We wanted to take ‘disruptive’ technologies to the........

© Fast Company