Japanese giant wants in on Aust genomes

Luke Costin

A Japanese tech giant has turned to Australia to test a program which could slash human genome-sequencing time.

NTT, which is ranked 46th on the Forbes Global 2000 companies ahead of Amazon and Intel, wants to link with Australian researchers after claiming its San-Shi system is so fast, human genome calculations could be cut to 20 minutes.

"The application of this technology is yet to spread widely," NTT chairman Hiromichi Shinohara said in Sydney.

"The major challenge for us is that university professors (in Japan) who have access to this genome technology are not willing to disclose or share that information with third parties.

"So our expectation is that, rather than Japan, perhaps this is an area for countries like Australia who could be more advanced in terms of its usage and development."

The first whole-genome sequencing took 13 years and US$1 billion when completed in 2003 but US researchers this year genome-sequenced and then diagnosed an ill baby within 20 hours.

NTT says San-Shi can "unlock the value" of private or ethically complicated data.

Sensitive data is encrypted, fragmented and sent to separate servers but remains configured in a way that means researchers can efficiently pull out statistics on the data and analyse them.

It claims the system can compute more than one million data records in less than 10 seconds without revealing the original source data to the system or analyst.

Western Sydney University recently trialled a version of the system called Mass Data Observations as it seeks to improve how quickly it can gain insight from large swaths of information.

WSU says keeping participants' data safe and secure is paramount but it's also impressed it has found a way to share results with participants immediately.

"Because the app is so simple and because of how engaging it is through the gamification of data collection, it actually allows us to have students involved very early on so they experience research from the ground up," WSU Pro Vice-chancellor for Research Professor Deborah Sweeny said.

The MDO system is operated by NTT subsidiary Dimension Data.