Live Long And Prosper: How Anne Wojcicki’s 23andMe Will Mine Its Giant DNA Database For Health And Wealth – Forbes

I saw this in my semi-regular search of Forbes articles – Live Long And Prosper: How Anne Wojcicki’s 23andMe Will Mine Its Giant DNA Database For Health And Wealth – Forbes:

There are some serious problems with what 23andMe and other DNA companies want to do. For example, the research is nowhere close to being where it needs to be when it comes to knowing exactly how many markers (SNPs, alleles, genes, etc.) contribute to a specific disease, drug interaction, etc.

And while it might make interesting cocktail conversation to reveal that you are 5% Scandinavian and have a genetic disposition to sneeze in the sun, 23andMe’s ambitions are much grander. Wojcicki wants to leverage the exponentially plunging costs of genetic sequencing (down 99% in a decade) and 23andMe’s massive DNA library (the world’s largest genetic research database) to fuel a “biotech machine” that will not just indicate genetic predispositions to certain diseases but also help create the drugs that will treat those diseases. The brilliance is that, if all goes as planned, 23andMe gets paid on both ends. Customers pay to find out about their heritage and then the company uses that genetic data to one day profit from potential new medicines. Eighty percent of 23andMe’s customers consent to allow their DNA to be used for biomedical research.

That’s not including how many people on 23andMe‘s forums either go with

  • I have the condition, but don’t have the markers
  • I don’t have the markers, therefore, I am safe

I see both responses on a regular basis. The fact you don’t have the tested markers should be a clear sign that are other markers that are unknown or weren’t tested. It doesn’t help that 23andMe or any of the other major genealogical DNA testing companies are only testing a small percentage of your DNA.

Great example of why you shouldn’t rely on 23andMe’s limited SNP testing:

Perhaps the most controversial 23andMe test is one that searches for three variants linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancer in what’s commonly called the Angelina Jolie gene, BRCA1, and a related gene, BRCA2. Critics say the problem is that there are more than 1,000 variants linked to breast cancer, so searching for just three variants fails to present the full risk profile. To top it off, the three variants that 23andMe scans for are typically found in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, just 2% of the U.S. population. For most people it’s irrelevant.

Another great example:

The jury is out on whether any of these fitness and health apps can make a difference, or whether 23andMe has any meaningful advantage over the other players. No one needs a genetic test to tell them that smoking causes lung cancer or that scarfing down junk food leads to obesity. A genetic test only provides personalized information. People still have to change their behavior. And a raft of scientific studies suggests that just giving them warnings won’t do the trick.

Considering how much is known about the dangers of smoking, but it doesn’t stop smokers from smoking. Same for those who are overweight, etc. I had a friend who was diabetic. He claimed if doctors had warned him early enough, then he would have done better. Yet, he kept eating what he wanted and ignoring doctors’ advice decades after he was diagnosed.

There are numerous other problems not mentioned in the article.

Personally, I prefer the option of another DNA company that is willing to let you share in the profits if you allow them to use your DNA. That’s a lot more enticing than having to pay a company who wants you to let them take your money and money from drug companies.

I opted out of allowing any of the DNA companies to use my DNA for medical research. Why should they take my money to process my kit and then sell my DNA to medical researchers or drug companies?


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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