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A Round-Up of Discussions Following the Launch of deCODEme and 23andMe

I have been accused of being a little too thorough sometimes. All things considered, that’s a flaw that I can live with. In the name of thorough, I offer the following review of recent online references to this weekend’s launch of personal genome analysis companies deCODEme and 23andMe. If you’re tired of hearing about the topic feel free to skip this post, but if you’re interested in the conversation that these launches have stimulated, read onward.

Kara Swisher at All Things Digital recently toured the new offices of 23andMe. The article – “Kara Visits 23andMe” – has a brief write-up and three videos. The first video is Ms. Swisher’s tour of the offices and includes an overview of the DNA collection kit and a brief interview with Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki. The second and third videos are part of a longer interview with Avey and Wojcicki.

My Biotech Life watched one of Kara’s videos and recognized the DNA collection kit being used by 23andMe, from DNA Genotek.

bbgm has a post, “Your personal health: Social networking XY.0 revisited and some killer video”, that discusses the social networking aspect of 23andMe.

Silicon Valley Mom’s Blog has a post entitled “New Gift For Your Mother: A Genome Kit!” Although I almost take offense with the ridiculous (and I think half-joking) idea that “family-tree research is a type of late-life nesting activity in older women”, the author points out that genome analysis might be a new type of narcissism. An interesting idea, although for many people the medical benefits (now and in the future) will outweigh any narcissistic benefits of genomic sequencing.

At David W. Boles’ Urban Semiotic, there is an interesting discussion in the comments following “23andMe and the Ticking Timebomb Within.”

Cyberpunk has their own take on the launch of 23andMe at “Wired Magazine Issue 15.12: Welcome to The Age of Genomics.”

Biomedicine on Display has a post at “23andMe and bio-consumership: the new web-based convergence between bioinformatics, business, and the public engagement with science” that highlights the convergence of numerous technologies in 23andMe’s product.

Bertalan Meskó at Scienceroll recently rated the websites of Navigenics, Helix Health, and 23andMe. Since 23andMe’s website was redesigned as part of their launch, he performed a re-review of the site.

David Ewing Duncan at Portfolio writes a piece about the concerns of personal genome analysis – “The Serious Business of Gene Tests.” Part 2 of Duncan’s series will be published later this week as he “runs his own DNA through the new websites and test-drives this Brave New world of genetic testing.” Duncan is also the author of the popular article about personal genome start-ups which appeared in the November issue of Portfolio, called “Welcome to the Future.”

Between the Lines, a blog at ZDNet, writes “The Online Health Revolution and Your DNA: It’s a Trust Issue.” The trio of authors bring up a number of issues, including the trust required of companies that store sensitive information (such as DNA) in databases.

Next is “Step Right Up, Get Your Very Own DNA Profile, Only $999” from Discovering Biology in a Digital World. The author states that “personal genomes are not just for Venter and Watson anymore,” and asks “is it really such an unequivocally good thing?”

There are two articles from David P. Hamilton at VentureBeat: Life Sciences. The first, “23andMe Lets You Search and Share Your Genome – Today,” highlights the launch and websites of 23andMe and deCODEme. In the second post, “23andMe: Will the Personal-Genomics Company Need Big Pharma to Make Money?”, Hamilton discusses the possible business models for personal genome companies. Aside from what appears to be a minor profit margin on each test, how will these companies monetize their products?

At Pimm, Attila Csordas asks “inF.A.Q. for 23andMe: What if I Have Mitochondrial DNA From Pa?” This questions, of course, is very familiar to genetic genealogists – is mitochondrial DNA ever passed from the father? It’s been discussed at length in the genetic genealogy circles, so I won’t address it here. But the question still gives me shivers sometimes! Attila also discusses 23andMe in two other posts – “23andMe’s mission: connecting all people on the DNA level or social networking XY.0”, and “23andMe: Genetics brings people together, rather than differentiate.”

At DNA and You, Dr. Matt Mealiffe asks “Who’s Your Daddy?” Dr. Mealiffe brings up the possibility of non-paternal events being discovered by personal genome analysis. As those of us in the genetic genealogy circle know, this is one of the major ethical concerns of DNA testing, and one that genetic genealogists have been faced with for many years. It is likely that the problem will be aggravated by increased testing, especially testing within families. A second article from Dr. Mealiffe wonders about the effect of copy number on these types of tests.

This weekend’s launch of deCODEme and 23andMe triggered a trio of polls: the first is found at bbgm’s post “Your Personal Health: A Quick Poll”, the second is at the Seven Stones with “Personal Genomes For a Fistful of Dollars”, and the third is right here at The Genetic Genealogist – “Poll – Are You Interested in Genomic Analysis?”

There are also at least two other ‘round-up’ posts from some of my fellow DNA Network bloggers. ScienceRoll has the first one at “Personalized Genetics: It Has Officially Begun!” The second is at Eye onDNA, with “DNA Network Members Discuss Personal Genomics Service Providers 23andMe, deCODEme, and Navigenics.” Hsien points out that many of the DNA Network blogs were cited in The Genetic Revolution at The Issue.

The Gene Sherpa, who argues that it is too early to put personal genomics in the hands of consumers, has a number of posts including “Cottage Industry? Cottage Cheese is More Like It!”, and “Not With a Bang…The Death of Personalized Medicine”, and “Staying Positive.”

In the popular media, Nicholas Wade at the New York Times has an accompanying piece to Amy Harmon’s article. Wade’s article, “Expert’s Advise a Grain of Salt With Mail-Order Genomes, at $1,000 a Pop,” mentions some of the concerns of genomic sequencing. There’s also a lengthy article in the SFGate entitled “Mountain View Startup Offers DNA Scans Online.”

And finally, at The Great Beyond “It’s All About Me – November 19, 2007.”

There – that should keep you busy for a while.

Blaine Bettinger

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

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: ScienceRoll
  2. Because all the calculations that genetic genealogists use to determine or estimate the date of the earliest maternal ancestor are based on the assumption that mitochondrial DNA is only inherited maternally. Additionally, genetic genealogists often use mitochondrial DNA to support or disprove the conclusion that two individuals are related. This use ALWAYS assumes that mitochondrial DNA is only inherited maternally.

    Lucky for us, there is very little evidence that mitochondrial DNA is ever inherited paternally. I haven’t done a complete literature search, but anecdotally I believe that the paper you cited is the only example.

  3. Yes, I understand the worries, for me (my MS thesis was on human mitochondrial genetics and aging) this is a very exciting question from a strictly scientific point of view. For companies with ancestry services based on the maternal theory: this is hell. There are other hints in the literature too and I plan to cover the topic later.

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