Jan. 23, 2020 — Toshiba Corporation and the Tohoku University Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization (ToMMo) have succeeded in the world’s first quantum cryptography transmission of whole-genome sequence data with data volumes exceeding several hundred gigabytes. Since speeds for key distribution in quantum cryptographic communication technologies are currently about 10 Mbps(Note 1) at maximum, the speed at which data can be encrypted and transmitted with the one-time pad is limited. So there is a room for improvement for large-scale data transmission with the one-time pad method. Toshiba and ToMMo newly developed a system for sequential encryption and transmission of large-scale data, thereby realizing real-time transmission of whole-genome sequence data with the one-time pad method. This demonstrated that quantum cryptography can transmit large amounts of data and has practical applications in the fields of genomic research and genomic medicine.
A part of this work was performed for Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (CSTI), Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), “Photonics and Quantum Technology for Society 5.0” (Funding agency : QST).
Genomic data is information tied closely to individual characteristics of human, and thus under certain conditions is legally treated as personal information identifying specific individuals Furthermore, while human genome information comprises approximately 3.2 billion bases, high-precision analysis using the latest sequencers obtains more than 90 billion bases, nearly thirty times that number. Especially, in the case of simultaneous analysis of multiple individuals, next-generation sequencers output more than several hundred gigabytes of data at a time. Storing and transporting such large amounts of confidential data requires very high-level security. Genome researchers have always been annoyed about the security of transferring large-scale genome sequence data, they sometimes physically transport hard disks in locked security boxes, which is problematic in terms of cost and time.
Quantum cryptographic communication technologies apply the principles of quantum mechanics to realize secure cryptographic communications against any form of wiretapping or decryption. These technologies are therefore expected to be used for backups of confidential data and for encrypting medical data transmissions requiring high confidentiality. Since the speed for key distribution in quantum cryptographic communication technologies are currently about 10 Mbps1 at maximum, the speed at which data can be encrypted and transmitted with the one-time pad is limited. So, there is a room for improvement for applying them to transmission of large-scale, highly confidential data such as whole-genome sequence data with the one-time pad.
Toshiba and ToMMo have realized efficient transmission of large-scale data using high-speed quantum cryptographic communication technologies developed by Toshiba and Toshiba Europe’s Cambridge Research Laboratory. When transmitting large-scale, highly confidential genome analysis data, the developed technologies transmit genomic analysis data output from next-generation sequencers using quantum cryptography with the one-time pad instead of transmitting all the data at once. By sequentially transmitting data as it comes out of sequencers, it is possible to reduce delay in transmission processing for the large amounts of whole-genome-analysis data.
Using this technology, Toshiba and ToMMo transmitted data over an approximately 7-km dedicated optical fiber line between ToMMo (Seiryo-machi, Aoba Ward, Sendai City) and a next-generation sequencer installed at the Toshiba Life Science Analysis Center (Minamiyoshinari, Aoba Ward, Sendai City). In this test, whole-genome sequence data output from the analysis of genome sequences in DNA samples held by ToMMo could be sequentially encrypted for quantum cryptography communications with the one-time pad and transmitted in real time without delay following the completion of analysis processing. These results confirmed that quantum cryptography technologies can be practically applied to cryptographic transmission of large-scale, highly confidential genome analysis data.
Overview of the transmission experiment
Note: This study was approved by the ethics committees at Toshiba and ToMMo.
Toshiba will continue its efforts toward practical quantum cryptography for various applications, including medicine, finance, and telecommunications infrastructures.
ToMMo will continue to promote the use of safe and secure ICT technologies to realize future medical treatments based on genomic information.
Source: Toshiba Corp.