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The Retail DNA Test Named the #1 Invention of 2008 by TIME Magazine

Image representing 23andMe as depicted in Crun...

Old 23andMe logo via CrunchBase

The latest issue of TIME Magazine lists the top 50 inventions of 2008, and the invention of the year is the Retail DNA Test.  The article is mostly about the product currently offered by 23andMe.  From the article:

“We are at the beginning of a personal-genomics revolution that will transform not only how we take care of ourselves but also what we mean by personal information. In the past, only élite researchers had access to their genetic fingerprints, but now personal genotyping is available to anyone who orders the service online and mails in a spit sample. Not everything about how this information will be used is clear yet — 23andMe has stirred up debate about issues ranging from how meaningful the results are to how to prevent genetic discrimination — but the curtain has been pulled back, and it can never be closed again. And so for pioneering retail genomics, 23andMe’s DNA-testing service is Time’s 2008 Invention of the Year.”

As the past year has shown, many people are opposed to this type of product for various reason, including that the test doesn’t involve genetic counseling, it isn’t ordered or interpreted by your personal doctor, and issues of genetic discrimination.  However, the article doesn’t shy away from these issues and provides a brief but interesting look into both sides.

This award highlights the fact that we are in the midst of a vast genetic revolution.  We are the first generation to be able to peer into the DNA inherited from thousands of previous generations.  Yes, the road will undoubtedly be bumpy, but I’m looking forward to the ride.  And so, I give my congratulations to 23andMe for this honor.

Blaine Bettinger

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

8 Comments

  1. Steve – I knew this post was going to get me in trouble, but I wanted to highlight this story to show that we are truly in the midst of something huge(what that something is depends on your point of view, I suppose).

    I see your point, and I agree that genetic testing involves numerous ethical issues and dilemmas. I just continue to believe that the best way to deal with these issues is to keep educating the public rather than attack companies or individuals. Educating the public is what I try to do here at TGG, and that is what you do at HelixHealth and HelixGene.

    Regarding the childhood testing that you discuss in your recent blog post, I also see the ethical issues here and they do tend to make me uncomfortable. In fact, I just had a great discussion with a reporter about this very thing earlier this week. However, I think your post misses the largest gatekeeper of children’s DNA; the parents. It is the parents who decide to test their children, who buy a test, who make their kids spit in a tube, who send away the sample in the mail. I’m not trying to absolve the companies of anything; I’m arguing that the parents are making these decisions for their children.

  2. Blaine,
    I agree with you…But part of that education is pointing out that this company is not what it says it is…By promoting family testing and enabling parents to do this…don’t you think it is bad as well? I do….they could choose for responsibilities sake not to take any samples from anyone under 18…Until the ethical issues are resolved. That would be responsible. I also agree that the parents are most culpable. Which is why some geneticists advocate counseling and screening parents prior to testing….
    But you can’t do that online, and it most def. is not scalable.
    -Steve

  3. Steve,
    I truly don’t know. Under-18 testing does make me uncomfortable and I’m still unsure whether I would test my own children, but does that mean that I should advocate that no one do it?

    And I think that the “until the ethical issues are resolved” is a non-existent point in time, unless you mean ‘resolved by the government.’ No development in the field of genomics is going to change the ethics of this issue; under-18 testing will continue to be controversial regardless of how informative or definitive DNA testing becomes with continued research. So, absent government regulation that mandates otherwise (which I most likely wouldn’t support for a variety of reasons), I believe that parents should be the gatekeepers of their children’s DNA. Just as I believe, for example, that parents should be the gatekeepers of their children’s TV use and their children’s Internet use.

  4. Ok,
    So if the parents are the gatekeepers of the child’s DNA….Would it be ok if parents could mandate that their child be drug tested?
    What about pregnancy tested?
    What about STD testing?

    If your answer is yes…..Did you know?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics is pretty clear that a parent shouldn’t be able to demand that their child be tested for these things. In fact a child can’t be coerced into this type of testing either. Absence of dissent is not considered Assent…..
    BTW, the government will not likely solve this either…..we need a system to screen sample providers…..this will prevent DNA theft and also prevent use against a child’s will.

    -Steve
    http://www.thegenesherpa.blogspot.com
    -Steve

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  6. I agree, the curtain has been pulled back and retail DNA testing will continue to grow and be available to more people; however, it does come with certain concerns. What will the ramifications be in the event of errors, or accidental disclosure to third parties, and will the retail DNA companies keep records that can later be used against their customers?

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