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23andMe – A Biotech Startup Aimed at Helping People Manage and Understand Their Genetic Information

23andMe is a startup company in California that describes themselves as “an early startup developing tools and producing content to help people make sense of their genetic information.  Our goal is to take advantage of new genotyping technologies and help consumers explore their genetics, informed by cutting edge science.”

What are the goals of 23andMe? The website claims that a person’s personal genetic information “will provide personal insight into ancestry, genealogy and health. For society, the collection of genotypic and phenotypic information on a large scale will provide scientists with novel avenues for research. “It should also be noted that 23andMe has ‘strong financial backers” and is looking for “talented, motivated individuals in many areas who have a passion for health and technology.”

A database that allows users to store, explore, or share their own genetic code could potentially be extremely useful for both society and the individual. The ability to visually identify and label genes, to compare DNA to identify relationships among people, and to volunteer in genetic research initiatives (if these turn out to be aims of 23andMe) seems both exciting and lucrative. Many predict that within the next 5 to 10 years genome sequencing will be rapid and inexpensive, suggesting that these sort of databases will be needed to help people understand the results of sequencing.

The biggest concern, of course, is security. Keeping a database of genetic information safe would be paramount. Another concern might be the psychological effects of sequencing. What happens if thousands of people sequence their DNA and discover (on their own, without the benefit of a doctor or genetic counselor) that they have an untreatable genetic disorder, or a 50% chance of breast cancer?  It will be interesting to see how 23andMe and other companies deal with these possible concerns.

On the website you can sign up to stay updated with new development as the company grows.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007