23andMe and the DNA-testing industry
23andMe is a privately held US company (Mountain View, California) focused on the field of genetic diagnostics. It was founded by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza and Anne Wojcicki in 2006, and backed by investments from Google. The main service it offers is a personal genetic testing kit that allows you to learn about an individual’s genetic roots and various traits related to his or her health. The package was released in 2007 for the price of $999 but funding has reduced the price to $99. In June 2015 there were more than one million users and in early 2017, they passed the 5 million users.
The price has not changed (it’s still $99 for ancestors and $199 for ancestors + health) and a few months ago Monica and I (mine was a gift from Miki) sent our saliva samples to obtain information from our ancestors. In Spain, due to regulatory issues, it’s not possible to perform the health test. In fact, it affects all of Europe except the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands. A real shame…
The truth is that the information obtained is really interesting but I have to say that it is less profound than we thought … The reports you get are the following:
- Ancestry Composition. It tells you how you’re connected to populations all over the world. It trace your DNA through the centuries and discover clues about where and when your ancestors lived. The report indicates in which of the 6 large population groups you fit and within each one, in which subgroups. In my case there was not much of a surprise: 95% European and 74% Iberian as subgroup (then I have small percentages of North Africa, Balkans, Malta and Italy).
- Maternal & Paternal HaploGroup. Haplogroups are classifications determined by variations found in human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). These haplogroups trace the matrilineal ancestry back to the origins of the human species in Africa and from there, to its subsequent dispersal over the entire surface of the planet. It also indicates the paternal line. The report shows you your Haplogroup, with some curious data, and the migrations of your ancestral line from 180,000 years ago til today.
- Neanderthal Ancestry. Neanderthals were ancient humans who intersected with modern humans before becoming extinct 40,000 years ago. This report indicates how much of their ancestry dates back to the Neanderthals. In my case, very little (less than 4% of my sequenced DNA) and that makes this report almost empty.
The reports are interesting but perhaps not enough to leave you with a good taste in your mouth (because of the price and the waiting time). In the other hand, it’s very visual and didactic, it shows you a lot of history and teaches you the scientific process behind it. Perhaps the most interesting thing is to encourage several people in your family to do it and have more information. There is also a search engine for people with a DNA related to yours, filtered by levels of closeness. Interesting if this becomes popular to create a large global family tree. On health results, take a look at this analysis that I find very interesting, both the reports offered and the comparison with other services.
Something that I have been analyzing (searching and reading) is the process that 23andMe carries out to obtain the data and above all how it manages the security and privacy of the information. As a starting point, I invite you to take a look at this SmarterEveryDay video (we’ve already talked about Destin):
It seems to me that the process is perfectly explained, right? And a key thing is that the intermediary laboratories in the process don’t have the complete picture of the data, only 23andMe and only have a small fraction of our sequence DNA (0.02%). They search in key areas to draw conclusions but don’t have the raw data. It’s true that you can indicate that saliva is kept for future tests, but 23andMe doesn’t keep it, but an external laboratory that only has a number as an identifier.
On the other hand, there has been a lot of chitchat about allowing developers to create applications based on this information that can benefit 23andMe customers. To do this your data has to be shared (with your consent) with third parties, something that seems delicate. After a lot of commotion they’ve announced that the data to be shared is not the raw data of the sequencing (which is also very small) but the interpretations of 23andMe.
Although there can be many gaps in the process and in the end you have to trust the corporation, I believe that the future of medicine and health in general (dietetics, for example) involves making decisions through a scientific process based on your genetic information. In fact, 23andMe encourages you to participate in surveys to provide information about yourself and that will serve to accelerate the learning process, something that in the future can benefit many people (and therefore, I am doing it).
If anyone has experience with 23andMe or other DNA testing companies, and wants to tell the story, do it in the comments!
#365daysof #futurism #genetics #DNA #transhumanism #day216