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.”

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Genetic Genealogy Article in the Houston Chronicle

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) .  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.”

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Follow-Up to 23andMe’s Price Drop


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.  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.”  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.”  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.  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.  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.

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23andMe Lowers Price to $399 and Adds More Genealogical SNPs

logo 23andMe just announced that the price of their service has dropped from $999 to $399.  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.  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.”  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.”

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Knome Delivers First Genomic Sequencing

Knome, a personal genomics company that launched within the past year, has just delivered the first genomic sequencing to customers according to a report in the MIT Technology Review.

After paying $350,000 for sequencing, customers receive their genetic sequence on an 8-gigabyte USB drive in an engraved silver box.  The USB is encrypted and contains special genome browsing software.

For the first time in history, it is unclear how many complete human genomes have been sequenced by scientists.  Prior to Knome, we knew exactly how many had been completed.  Now, and probably ever after, genomes will be sequenced and analyzed without all the typical fanfare and press releases.  Instead of just 2 or 3 genomes, there will soon be tens of genomes, then hundreds, and then thousands.

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Using DNA to Examine James Madison’s Family Tree

imageAccording to a 200-year-old family legend, Bettye Kearse – an African American – is the direct descendant of James Madison.  Madison, of course, was a founding father and fourth President of the United States.  As the story goes, he fathered a child name Jim with a slave cook named Coreen.  For the past 4 years she and genetic genealogist Bruce Jackson of the Roots Project have tried to use DNA to prove or disprove a story passed through 5 generations of the family.

Unfortunately, Kearse and Jackson have been unable to obtain DNA samples from Madison’s descendants, stating that they have been “neither sincere nor forthcoming in this effort.”  The president of the National Society of Madison Family Descendants, Frederick M. Smith, cited confidentiality concerns and declined to comment.

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Genetic Genealogy Patents – A Brief Review

Yesterday, DNA Heritage issued a press release (reproduced below) regarding an opinion issued by the UK Intellectual Property.The opinion (available here) was the result of inquiry into whether claims 4-7 of a 2004 patent in England are valid.The patent, held by Bryan Sykes of Oxford Ancestors, was issued in 2004 and is directed at creating and using a database of Y-DNA haplotype information to examine surname relationships and determine the likelihood of common ancestry between individuals.The UK IPO’s opinion holds that the claims are invalid because they are either not novel, or did not require an inventive step (i.e., they were obvious).Most intellectual property offices, such as those in the UK and the US, require that an invention at least be novel and nonobvious.

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TGG Interview Series VIII – Max Blankfeld

image The eighth edition of the TGG Interview Series is with Max Blankfeld.  Max is Vice-President of Marketing and Operations at Family Tree DNA, one of the largest genetic genealogy companies in the world.  In addition, together with Bennett Greenspan, Max launched DNA Traits, a company that tests DNA for genetic diseases and inherited conditions.  Max is a frequent contributor to genetic genealogy mailing lists and has answered many people’s questions about testing, results, an the field in general.

From the “About” page at Family Tree DNA:

“Originally from Brazil, received his BBA from Fundação Getulio Vargas, and MBA from Rice University. While his first college education was in the field of Aeronautical Engineering, he gave it up to become a foreign correspondent. After that, he started and managed several successful ventures in the area of public relations as well as consumer goods both in Brazil and the US.”

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The Genetic Mess in California – A Round-Up, and My Thoughts

On June 9, 2008, the California Department of Public Health sent cease and desist letters to 13 companies that offer genetic testing. According to the letters, the companies are in violation of certain sections of the Business and Professions Code of California, including offering “a clinical laboratory test directly to the consumer without a physician order” since such tests “must be ordered by a physician or surgeon” (according to these officials). Copies of the letters are available here. The companies receiving letters are:

  • 23andMe
  • CGC Genetics
  • deCODEme Genetics
  • DNA Traits
  • Gene Essence
  • HairDX LLC
  • Knome
  • Navigenics
  • New Hope Medical
  • Salugen
  • Sciona Inc
  • Smart Genetics
  • Suracell Inc

I’m entering this discussion late, although I’ve been watching with great interest. What I’ve noticed is that much of the discussion, both in the blogosphere and the media, is confusing or ignoring the fact that there are actually two questions involved here.

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The Latest News About 23andMe

image For new readers of The Genetic Genealogist, 23andMe is a personal genomics company that offers a service to examine more than 600,000 SNPs throughout an individual’s genome. The information is then used to analyze ancestry (using Y-DNA and mtDNA) and to estimate propensity for disease. For much more info about 23andMe and similar companies, look under “Personal Genomics” on my Featured Articles page.

A Contest

Today, 23andMe announced on their blog – The Spittoon – the winner of the company’s first ‘Win Your Genome Contest’. The contest was to describe Lilly Mendel, a publicly available but anonymous profile at 23andMe – based upon her genetic information alone. The winner was Mike Cariaso, who previously created a program that analyzes 23andMe SNP data using the growing SNPedia database.

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