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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Green USB Drive that Stores Blood So You Can Be Cloned One Day | Motherboard


Staff Writer

January 5, 2015 // 12:31 PM EST
Amongst all the super ultra high definition televisions, wearable body sensors, and drones here at the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the most futuristic devices on display—at least in terms of its implications—is a humble green USB thumb drive.
The drive itself, called the DNA Vault and sold by a company called Genisyss, contains little more than some basic family history and database software, but inside of its case are four tiny pools that hold droplets of blood—a vault for your and your family's DNA.
The thinking here is that, as we age, our DNA degrades thanks to stress, sunlight, smoking, radiation, and all the sorts of things that eventually could lead to cancer and other diseases. If we save a copy of our DNA from when we're healthy, perhaps in the future doctors will be able to use it to heal us. Or maybe even clone us.
Image: Author
"I'm telling you, not because I founded the company but because I'm being honest—if I had a copy of the DNA of my relatives who have passed away, well, that'd be invaluable to me," Richard Brownell, a retired military aerospace engineer who founded the company, told me. "One tiny drop of blood, and the DNA is stored for decades off into the future."
As I mentioned, the DNA vault is little more than a thumb drive with four pads to actually store the blood (a larger version contains eight separate pads). In that sense, the device itself isn't futuristic at all.
But the stuff Brownell is talking about—personalized treatments for cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's; cloning; tracking the general changes of DNA over time—certainly is. The pads themselves are made of a proprietary material, but Brownell says they can store DNA that can be completely reconstituted and sequenced with "no detectable degradation" for at least two decades, which is how long he's been testing the storage pads.
This is the homepage of the software, which for the moment is Windows-only. Image: Author
While the DNA Vault is a USB drive, there's no proprietary technology that actually puts the DNA itself on your computer. Instead, the software allows you to create medical history profiles for your family and lets you upload photos so you're able to remember whose DNA is located on which part of the device. Consumers are expected to prick themselves to take a sample—Brownell suggested that when kids accidentally scrape a knee or something, a cotton swab could be used to transfer DNA over to the device.
He says that it's safer than storing your DNA with a laboratory, because you have physical control over it—you don't need to fear, say, hackers if you've got one of these hidden in your nightstand drawer.
When I asked him why I wouldn't just, say, store a vial of my blood in a shoebox somewhere, Brownell said that the DNA would denature quite quickly—at least if we wanted to use it for medical or cloning purposes in the future.
The "child" version of the DNA Vault (with four pads) costs $40 and is already on sale—larger versions cost up to $119 and have space for more samples.
"Who knows, I can see people storing their pets' DNA, I can see vineyards storing the DNA of a wine grape they want to reconstitute in the future, so they can have a vintage grape without waiting for years and years," he said. "I don't see why anyone wouldn't want this."​

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