Apple programme to turn iPhone 6 into DNA testing device

6 May 2015

Apple is teaming up with health researchers to develop a series of apps that will ask iPhone owners to spit in a cup to aid in DNA-testing programmes.

The move is part of Apple’s launch of ResearchKit, which has already seen five apps created as part of the programme, with mPower receiving arguably the largest response given that it asked iPhone users to track their health data to monitor the development of Parkinson’s disease.

According to MIT Technology Review, Apple is going to recruit academic partners for two initial studies as part of this new wave of research apps, which will analyse an iPhone user’s DNA and then send it to the researchers in one enormous database.

Despite one researcher, under a veil of anonymity, saying that the project is not set in stone, Apple’s eventual goal is believed to be to allow iPhone users to be able to send their data to researchers who require it or to other health professionals.

One of these planned studies will be a collaboration between Apple and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), which plans to analyse the DNA of expectant mothers who are iPhone owners and use that data, along with other gathered data, to determine potential causes of premature births.

DNA testing ResearchKit

Apple wants you to spit in a cup for science

In terms of how the actual DNA testing will work, a participant would need to be sent an Apple-approved DNA testing tool, such as a ‘spit cup’, which would be sent to either UCSF or Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

However, those involved in the project stress that it will not be mapping a person’s entire genome, rather 100 of the most important and regularly affected disease genes, which will keep testing costs down to somewhere in the region of a few hundred dollars, rather than tens of thousands.

The company, however, is very much gearing up towards its World Wide Developers Conference this June where it hopes to showcase and launch the service.

DNA helix image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic