Our DNA contains the code that dictates how our body works — including, apparently, information about which foods we should (and shouldn’t) be eating.
Dr. Sherry Zhang is on a mission to help individuals eat healthier based on their unique genetic code. That’s why she created GenoPalate, the DNA-driven personalized nutrition company, and also why we can’t wait to welcome her onstage at Customize, our food personalization summit in NYC next month.
Before she hits the stage, we had the chance to ask Dr. Zhang a few questions about DNA vs. microbiome-based nutrition, data privacy and the biggest challenges towards harnessing the power of personal biology.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us a little bit about what GenoPalate does.
GenoPalate is a personalized nutrition platform. We believe that food and nutrition play a powerful role in our health and wellbeing. Our mission is to empower people to optimize their health through personalized nutrition insights.
The GenoPalate platform uses the latest research in metabolic health, genetics and nutrition to provide personalized insights to encourage healthier eating behaviors. From a simple saliva sample, our proprietary technology uses DNA to make personalized recommendations on the ideal intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. We make this actionable for our customers by providing a comprehensive list of foods that best suit their genetic nutritional requirements.
What’s the difference between DNA-driven and microbiome-driven diet recommendations?
This is a hard question as we are NOT comparing apples to apples. When we test DNA (like ancestry or 23andMe and Genopalate) we are testing the blueprint of a human’s genome. The human genome is a 3.2 billion-letter genetic code that we all were born with. Within our genetic code or DNA we have many variants that define not only our food preferences but how our bodies will respond to or metabolise specific nutrients. For example there are variants that predict tolerance to lactose or caffeine metabolism.
Another factor that may contribute to how our bodies respond to nutrients, are the bacterial, viral and fungal floras that live in our gut. These are known as our microbiomes. Microbiome companies are testing the RNA and DNA of the gut bacteria NOT of our human genetic code. This is an important distinction. Microbiome research, while promising, is still in its infancy. Many studies are still being conducted to understand how nutritional interventions impact the microbiome and how they impact on human health.
How do you navigate concerns around data privacy?
We at GenoPalate take extra care to keep customers’ genetic and personal information private and safe as we understand how important it is for us to deliver the best possible practices for customers’ data privacy. We implement de-identification along with encryption of each individual’s data to ensure secure storage and complete anonymous separation from genetic and personal information. Only automated GenoPalate product services have access to all of the information to fulfill each order and deliver each product to customers. As a business, we do not sell, lease or rent users’ personal information to third-parties without the user’s consent. Customers’ genetic information may be used by GenoPalate’s product development team to enhance services to customers.
In this case, customers’ data will be de-identified and aggregated before analysis to preserve anonymity. We will continue investing measures that ensure responsible management of user data including transparency, consumer education, proper consenting and data security and privacy design and more by following the principles recommended by organizations such as Forum of Future Privacy.
What’s one of the biggest challenges facing personalized nutrition?
I think one of the biggest challenges facing personalized nutrition is the question of how to create a contextual user experience in order to continuously drive a person’s success in healthy eating.
Human genetics is known to explain approximately 30 percent of the variations we have observed in our phenotypic traits such as weight and body mass distribution, glucose and lipids profiles, blood pressure and inflammatory biometrics. We also know that approximately 40 percent of the health phenotype outcomes are also driven by an individual’s daily lifestyle behaviors.
What we yet need to tackle as a scientific community is to establish an effective way of harnessing the power of personal biology in the context of that person’s living environment. GenoPalate is up for the challenge and is seeking forward-thinking organizations to partner in our quest for helping people to reach and maintain their optimal health and prevent chronic diseases.