Decode Your Genome For $1,000

For $1,000, a small California-based company called 23andMe (financed in part by Google) will decode your DNA and tell you whatever it can about your predispositions, health risks, and family traits—for example, whether or not you’re in line for the same heart disease that affected your father and grandfather, which is what the author of the Wired article wondered. (Turns out he’s not, but he’s at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. When one door opens…)

For now, companies are offering genotyping—”the strategic scanning of your DNA for several hundred thousand of the telltale variations that make one human different from the next.” It will take a few more years before anyone can offer (or afford) to sequence all 6 billion points of a person’s genetic code, but in the meantime, genotyping can provide a lot of the kind of health-related information many people would love to know.

So what’s involved, other than $1,000?

A lot of spit, as it turns out. It takes about 10 minutes of slavering to fill the 2.5-milliliter vial that comes in the fancy lime box provided by 23andMe. Wrap it up, call FedEx, and two to four weeks later you get an email inviting you to log in and review your results. There are three main sections to the Web site: Genome Labs, where users can navigate through the raw catalog of their 23 pairs of chromosomes; Gene Journals, where the company correlates your genome with current research on a dozen or so diseases and conditions, from type 2 diabetes to Crohn’s disease; and Ancestry, where customers can reach back through their DNA and discover their lineage, as well as explore their relationships with ethnic groups around the world. Family members can share profiles, trace the origin of particular traits, and compare one cousin’s genome to another in a fascinating display of DNA networking.

“23AndMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000. Welcome to the Age of Genomics “ [Wired]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. ghnvt says:

    That is insane, but good to know if you have that kind of cash lying around. Good to know Google is using that huge Cash Flow to finance something totally forward thinking.

  2. vanillabean says:

    shhhh, don’t tell blue cross. DNA seems like it could be an affordable way to deny coverage.

  3. qwickone says:

    If you can afford it, it’s definitely something that could be really useful. It can help plan for future medical expenses and give you a good idea of what to expect if there are debilitating diseases in your family. I would be interested to know if you’re required to turn over this kind of information to your insurance company…

  4. DashTheHand says:

    Knock 90% off the price and I’ll bite.

  5. bluesunburn says:

    My wife and I had some genetic testing done before we got married, but nothing on that level. It just seems like so much overkill to me.

  6. AbstractConcept says:

    There was a whole article on the front page the NY Times about this 2 days ago. It’s pretty cool, people can find out more about what their body is like… what to eat, what to avoid, predispositions to things, etc.. Of course this is a new field, the scope of info available now is limited, but I still think this is great.

  7. Jeff_McAwesome says:

    Didn’t this take them like 8 years to do this back in the 90s? Now they can do it in a month?

  8. VA_White says:

    I think this is so cool. I would love to prove to my husband that he is at high risk for a heart attack. Maybe it would finally convince him to put down the goddamn bacon.

  9. William Mize says:

    Man, I would totally do this if I had the grand lying around.

  10. Skiffer says:

    Here’s a similar, but different genome mapping project:

    [www3.nationalgeographic.com]

    For $100, National Geographic will map your mitochondrial DNA and show you what regions of the world your ancestors came from.

    Hmmm…I smell Christmas gift for my geeky family members…or myself…

  11. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Isn’t anyone else creeped out by the fact that Google is financing these guys?

  12. 3ZKL says:

    can you say GATTACA?!

  13. Skiffer says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: It’s all a prelude to Google getting into the online dating arena – “Screw e-Harmony’s 50-whatever-point personality profile, we’ve genetically profiled all of our members!”

  14. MercuryPDX says:

    Seems a bit pricey, but I would seriously consider it. I was adopted, and have no idea about anything when it comes to predispositions and health risks.

  15. drkkgt says:

    @MercuryPDX: My thoughts exactly. We were just having a discussion on an adoptee site about heritage but medical adds a whole new level.

  16. theblackdog says:

    Considering the number of years my dad had to spend researching medical conditions in his family, this would be a great time saver. I’m also sure that one of my friends (who was adopted) would be interested in being able to find this sort of information.

    I admit I’m concerned about privacy as well, I wouldn’t want anyone besides myself and my family getting their hands on this information.

  17. thatericguy says:

    I don’t think this type of information is always helpful. I get the feeling that negative results would be a self fulfilling prophecy for many. My father is an example after a family member told him that a close relative had developed a mental illness. He hasn’t developed the actual mental illness, but was extremely paranoid for a while. Reading as much about it, and trying to do whatever it is possible in his lifestyle to prevent it.

    Many people who are told that they are likely to develop mental illnesses or ailments might become much more paranoid and actually develop other forms of anxiety or physical problems.

    @Imaginary_Friend: Google financed ($3M) them a couple months after Sergey Brin married the co-founder..much less ominous then I think it merits.

  18. retailwhore says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: Google is financing this because Anne Wojcicki, one of the co-founders of 23andMe, is married to Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders. So, not odd at all.

  19. kentuckienne says:

    Eh, color me skeptical. While I’m far from an expert, my understanding is that we simply don’t know enough about the human genome, or how genes interact with each other and the environment, to draw any truly definitive conclusions from such analyses. Unless you have a very specific genetic mutation — such as BRCA1/BRCA2, which is greatly increases risk for breast and ovarian cancer — there just aren’t that many known individual genes that definitively predict future health problems. Sure, the author of the Wired article found that he has certain genes that mediate against heart disease, and lacks others that increase risk — but there are almost certainly other genes that influence heart disease that we simply don’t know about at this point in time. I’m saving my money and watching my diet.

  20. silver-spork says:

    @ Kentuckienne: You are correct. This is very gimmicky and will not say anything definitive about much besides breast cancer and Alzheimer’s.

    @ Jeff_mcawesome: Multiplexed sequencing technologies in silica capillaries and microfluidic devices have shortened analysis times tremendously since the HGP was publicized in the early 90s. Even during my graduate work (1998-2003) in this area, top-notch sequencing rates went from 450 bases/channel/hour to 1800 bases/channel/hour and the number of channels per run has gone from 96 to 284 or more. At this point, I imagine Google is involved because the rate-limiting step is most likely assembly of the sequences, not the sequencing itself.

  21. @Skiffer: I can’t afford it but that would be cool to find out.

  22. jflanag says:

    @ silver-spork: We were running a little slower back when I did my work (200 – 400 bases/capillary/hour), but the technology continues to progress.

    Currently, there are 5 teams competing for the Archon Genomics X-prize for $10.0M to be the first team to sequence 100 genomes within 10 days or less at a cost of no more than $10k. This truly has been the holy grail for sequencing technology companies since the establishment of the HGP back in the late 1980s. While I am certain that one day they will get there, the genomic information generated is only a small piece of the puzzle. Gene expression is another piece of this puzzle that determines our ability to develop (or not, hopefully) a disease, and that is where current research has been focusing on for the past 5-10 years.

  23. mac-phisto says:

    this brings whole new meaning to denial based on pre-existing condition.

  24. synergy says:

    @kentuckienne: I agree. I work in a genetics lab and do genotyping. There’s way too many genes that can interact and some which will never express that this type of information really can’t be particularly helpful for anything other than taking your $1000 and possibly giving you a scare (which may or may not be groundless).

  25. synergy says:

    @silver-spork: You should look into what Illumina is doing with beads.

  26. spryte says:

    I just think it’s funny that you have to FedEx them a bunch of spit. And being the dork that I am, I couldn’t help but think it would be fun to add in a tiny bit of doggie drool, just to eff with their heads…

    But seriously, I think it would just be interesting to see the results, to be able to know that kind of stuff about yourself. Of course, I was enthralled by my allergy testing 15 years ago…doesn’t take much, I guess.

  27. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @synergy: Is there anything similar that would really be effective? I am adopted and I have no idea of my biological family history. I want to at least have some idea of what I am predisposed too medically.

  28. G0dS4v3tehQu33n says:

    This kind of thing can actually be very useful, considering my girlfriend is adopted with a closed adoption case, so there’s no medical history or family records known. And with this, there’s no guesswork.

  29. lincolnparadox says:

    @G0dS4v3tehQu33n: I would be in the same boat as your girlfriend. I don’t have the medical history of my family to fall back on, so I’d like to know more.

    $1000 for this type of testing isn’t a bad deal. A similar DNA microarray test through a physician would cost you as much, plus your insurance company would have access to the results. But going through the private sector, you have to pay out of pocket and you don’t get the counseling that comes with a physician. But you get piece of mind, without effecting your medical insurance.

  30. Mr. Gunn says:

    A couple things have been missing in the coverage of this.

    First, DNA is not destiny. Even if 100% of the people with a particular mutation developed a disease, they still can’t tell you when it will happen, so no one’s going to get their insurance denied.

    Second, it’s SNPs that they’re profiling, so you genetics experts above need to look into Illumina’s technology a bit. This stuff is only going to get better as more and more people get profiled.

    Third, this will probably result in major benefits for the consumer, because raising your risk for one disease comes with reducing your risk for hundreds of others. By decreasing the cost of medical care, insurance companies will have to charge less to remain competitive.

    Finally, drug companies can go ahead with marketing drugs that only work for subsets of a population, instead of looking for the blockbuster that works less well but for everyone.

    The major looming problem is educating doctors who didn’t learn much genetics in school and suddenly have patients who have many questions they can’t answer.

    They’re not the only company doing it, either. Navigenics, decode, Helix Health, DNA Direct, and more are all involved, and there’s more to come.

  31. @silver-spork:

    Multiplexed sequencing technologies in silica capillaries and microfluidic devices have shortened analysis times tremendously since the HGP was publicized in the early 90s.

    I totally pretended you were a science officer on Star Trek saying that. I just added a “Captain,” at the beginning.

  32. OwenCatherwood says:

    Buyer’s beware with using this for finding ancestors: [www.jsonline.com]

    Based on Bolnick’s findings, most tests can only trace a few of an individual’s ancestors and a small portion of their DNA.

    Bolnick also said there is no clear-cut connection between DNA and racial/ethnic identity.

    The tests, she said, cannot determine exactly where a person’s ancestors lived or what ethnic identity they had.

    “For many people that are just curious about their potential background, this is not a big deal,” Bolnick said. “For other people who are trying to identify themselves with a specific group, they need to understand there are flaws with these tests.”

  33. Mr. Gunn says:

    “these tests” they were referring to are nothing like the massive SNP profiling that 23 and me is doing.