Although I can hardly hope to introduce or discuss these recent events any better than Daniel MacArthur has already given at Genetic Future, I will at least bring this new information to your attention.
Last Wednesday the New York Times printed â€œMy Genome, My Selfâ€, an article written by Stephen Pinker, one of the Personal Genome Projectâ€™s â€œFirst 10.â€Â In the article, Pinker talks about his experience with genome sequencing through the PGP.Â It is especially interesting since Pinker analyzes the issue from the point of view of a psychologist.Â I highly recommend reading this article if you are at all interested in personalized medicine or genetics.
Much of the article discusses the confusing results that are returned by genome/disease analysis, due to our current lack of understanding in this enormous field:
Image via Wikipedia
I’m currently in the middle of third-year law school exams, so I thought I’d do a round-up of all the interesting stories I’ve seen over the past week or two.
Holiday Specials on DNA Testing
First, it appears that most of the major genetic genealogy companies are offering special deals for the holidays:
Family Tree DNA announces a holiday sale – FTDNA is offering reducing pricing for customers who are part of or join a DNA project. For example, a 37-marker Y-DNA test is reduced to $119, down from $149.
Ancestry.com announces holiday sale – buy a DNA test between now and December 31st, and you’ll receive 40% off. For example, a 33-marker Y-DNA test is $89.40 (usually $149) and their mtDNA test is $107.40 (usually $179).
Similar to a move made by myHeritage a few weeks ago, Familybuilder has announced that it will offer genetic genealogy testing to its customers.Â As part of the launch of this new product, Familybuilder is offering both Y-DNA and mtDNA tests for only $59.95 until January 1.Â After that, the price will be $89.95
Based on the demo account, it looks like the Y-DNA test includes 17 markers.Â Although this isn’t many markers, $3.52 per marker is a great price.
Familybuilder is planning to continue to develop their genetic genealogy offering: “Currently in development is the ability to create Groups around surnames, families, and other criteria as well as the ability to Compare DNA.”Â From the press release:
â€œUp to now, genealogical DNA testing for the masses has been cost-prohibitive,â€ said David Rheins, CMO of Familybuilder.Â â€œWe are excited about the launch of Familybuilder DNA, and believe that this tool will help millions of consumers better understand the origins of their heritage and ancestry. We are very focused on developing the Familybuilder DNA product line, and have plans to roll out additional tests and future functionality, including the ability to search our DNA database to identify living relatives with whom you share DNA.â€
Image by Valerie ReneÃ© via Flickr
Family Tree DNA has a new issue of Facts & Genes available on their website.Â If you didn’t receive this newsletter but would like to receive it in the future, you can register here.
I especially like the “Case Study in Genetic Genealogy”, which is reprinted in full below.Â I, like others, sometimes jump too quickly to the conclusion that there has been a non-paternal event in a line.
Case Study in Genetic Genealogy
When I ["I" being a hypothetic someone who has tested through a genetic genealogy company] first tested, I had no matches with my surname, and a match with another surname. I was told that there was an event in the past, breaking the link of the Y chromosome and the surname – an illegitimacy.
As the Guardian reported today in “Genealogy website MyHeritage offers low-cost DNA tests“, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage have formed a partnership to combine DNA testing with online family trees.Â From the press release:
“With close to 220,000 records, FamilyTreeDNA is the largest database of genealogic DNA information in the world. This provides the perfect complement to MyHeritage’s current research tools, giving our members another way to learn about where they come from,” said Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “We help people around the world discover, connect and communicate with their extended family network and easily research their family history. Now, by working with FamilyTreeDNA, we can offer a solution when the paper trail runs out.”
Security of genetic information is an enormous concern for individuals, and thus an enormous concern facing commercial genetic enterprises.Â I was recently having a conversation with someone about the security of genetic and personal information at companies such as 23andMe and Navigenics, and I pointed out that the very livelihood of these organizations depends on their ability to secure information.Â A single security breach could potentially drive away future customers.
On that topic, Ryan Calo, a residential fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society writes about a panel discussion held at the law school (pdf poster here):
“With a credit card and a saliva sample, consumers can now unlock the secrets carried in their DNA. Consumer genomics offers direct access to one’s genetic code, plus interpretations of health risks, family lineage, opportunities for social networking, and more. But how should consumer genomics be regulated? Join us for a panel discussion with leaders at the forefront of consumer genomics (23andme and Navigenics), media commentators (Alexis Madrigal from Wired), and policy makers.”
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.Â The article is mostly about the product currently offered by 23andMe.Â 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 Ã©lite 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 â€” 23andMe has stirred up debate about issues ranging from how meaningful the results are to how to prevent genetic discrimination â€” 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.”
Journalist Maggie Greenhouse writes an entertaining article about genetic genealogy entitled “Who Do You Think You Are? Company Can Help Trace Genetic Ancestry” (Houston Chronicle, Sept. 19, 2008) .Â Much of the article is about Oxford Ancestors (OA), a genetic genealogy company based in England, but the article also mentions some companies in the United States:
“Houston is also home to Family Tree DNA, a company that offers the same services as Oxford Ancestors. Last year, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates joined forces with Family Tree DNA to help African Americans looking for answers about their past. AfricanDNA, the company Gates launched in November 2007, offers both genetic testing and genealogical tracing services for African Americans.”
Yesterday I wrote about 23andMe’s decision to lower their price to $399 (down from $999) while adding more genealogically-relevant SNPs and partnering with Ancestry.com.Â Although I don’t have any further information about the new SNPs, I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles about the price drop around the blogosphere.
Aaron Rowe at Wired science writes “Human Genetics is Now a Viable Hobby.”Â He notes that the new price is “well within the reach of cash-strapped grad students, frugal genealogy buffs and other not-so-early adopters.”Â The comment thread is an interesting read as well.
“Cheap as chips”
Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future writes “Cheap as chips: 23andMe slashes the price of personal genomics” at his new scienceblogs location.Â Daniel also notes that the updated product “will certainly be popular with genetic genealogists” because of the addition of Y-DNA and mtDNA SNPs, and agrees with my hypothesis that other companies will follow suit and lower their prices.Â Daniel also mentions the Personalized Medicine Collaborative (PMC) at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which is offering free personal genome scans to 10,000 individuals this year.
23andMe just announced that the price of their service has dropped from $999 to $399.Â According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the company lowered the price of testing to attract more customers and increase the size of their database.Â The article maintains that 23andMe will still bring in profit from the lower membership price, which is made possible by a “new, higher-density gene-scanning chip made by Illumina Inc. of San Diego.”Â From the press release:
“The new Beadchip, called the HumanHap550-Quad+, makes use of a four-sample format. 23andMe also has added improved custom content to the new Beadchip, which will include a broader range of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) variations and rare mutations not found on the previous Beadchip, thereby providing more relevant data on published associations, as well as maternal and paternal ancestry.”