While I don´t know why Anne Wojciki´s called her new venture 23andMe and not 46andMe (as far as I know I have 46 chromosomes and also happened to be 46), I still think that 23andMe is the coolest tech venture I have heard about in a long time. Probably the best analogy to describe it is “a search engine for human genetic information”.

How do you translate the concept of searching to human genetics? How do you “crawl” people? In the case of genes, you can´t crawl them…but people can ping you. How? By sending you some spit over the mail. While saliva may not seem to be the most elegant way to deal with the problem, it seems to be the best choices considering all bodily fluid alternatives. So to join 23andMe, map yourself in the global genetic pool and be searchable, all you have to do is send some saliva and pay for its analysis.

The mapping is not as expensive as you imagine. You may recall that the original human mapping was done around 2000 at a cost of billions of dollars for the first genome. Now the good news is that genetic mapping seems to have its own Moore´s law and what used to cost billions now costs only $1000. In only 7 years. So for the price of a laptop you can now learn the most intimate details of your genetic self.

Why would you want to be mapped? First reason: to search yourself. Who has not Googled her/his name? So if you like to know what others think about you, wouldn´t you like to know what “you say about yourself” genetically speaking? And as medicine advances, wouldn´t you like to be notified of news concerning your own genes and what they predict about your life? I would, especially if, in so doing, I can learn to live a longer, healthier life.

And what about relatives? I found long lost relatives Googling my last name and we started the Varsanet, which is the network of the Varsavsky´s online. Now wouldn´t be exciting to find genetic relatives? If people are joining so many social sites to find out what they have in common, why not find out who the person who is closest to you in the genetic sense is?

And then there are the enormous benefits that medicine in general can derive from a data base made of millions of human beings whose genotypes and phenotypes appear. Imagine all the fascinating visual work that can be done with gene mapping and medicine. You may just want to join to help humanity understand itself.

Have I convinced you? Are you ready to send your saliva? Well, sorry, but you will have to wait because all this is being built. But if you like the concept and are interested in applying your skills to the venture they are hiring.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

No Comments

Marcelo Levit on February 2, 2007  · 

Interesting idea but … a public genetics data base could be dangerous … it reminds me the book “Brave new world”, by Aldous Huxley (Un mundo feliz).
Could be useful also for organs dealers over the world ….
I would not want anybody to gen-google my genetics.

Furthermore, we are ALL genetic relatives …

By the way, did you read about Epigenetics ?
It’s amazing.

Max Blankfeld on May 4, 2007  · 

It is indeed an interesting idea. In fact, it is so interesting that Family Tree DNA pioneered this field in year 2000, and since then our databases have grown to close to 150,000 individuals. We have now the largest comparative database of its kind in the world, and many people fount interesting connections through us. Several also found that despite their paper trail they were not connected to that biological line that they thought…

Greg on May 23, 2007  · 

A wiki based effort (SNPedia) is already up and running for those interested in reading up – or discussing – their genes.

Mark James Adams on June 4, 2007  · 

Re: the name. “23andMe” rhymes.

GeneticsIsNotAJoke on November 18, 2007  · 

I do not completely believe in the information about telling you how to live so that you can avoid certain diseases. The truth of the matter is that the exact science to predict such things DOES NOT exits and such speculations could cause a lot of panic among a person’s life. What I mean is that there is no model which exists today, and predicts that if a person has a certain variant in his genome, he/she will get the disease in the future. Even if we assume that such a thing exists, i.e. if someone, somehow is able to test and tell you if you will get a disease in the future, NOTHING much can be done about it. The reason is simple: Pharama companies are not make PRE-Symptomatic drugs, i.e. they are only making drugs for diseases when you show symptoms of those diseases and almost nothing exists for you to take a drug, when you do not have the disease but might get it in the future. I believe such services by 23andme etc are just to increase panic in the world. Having said all this, it is definately a good service to offer, not now, but 10 years or so down the line, when you know exactly how these diseases are caused in the lifetime and when what can be done about them. I hope people really understand what they are doing before opting for such a service. If you have to get a disease in the future, it is better to enjoy your days in life till you get that disease, provided it is a disease for which nothing much can be done about it at this stage.

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