Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki of the genetic testing service 23andMe gave a perplexing demo this morning at the D6 conference. The service, launched last November, costs users $1,000 ($599 with current discounts) and provides a growing amount of information based on your genetic profile: predisposition to certain diseases, a profile of your overall racial makeup, and your relationship to another genetic profile in the database if you have access to it (it will tell you if you're related to your father, for example).
As more of the human genome is decoded, the 23andMe service will continue to get more useful, especially in regards to health care issues like drug allergies.
Today at D6, Avey and Wojciki announced the service's new "Gene journal" feature, which lets users refine their data by answering questions that indicate broader genetic trends, such as lactose intolerance and a like or dislike of foods like cilantro. The team also showed a cute 10-question quiz that you can use to compare your genetic profile to others. This part of the demo was perplexing: if you pay $600 or $1000 for a genetic test, why should you also have to take a quiz?
At the tail-end of the presentation, Avey and Wocjciki discussed their company's new project, 23andWe, a new research platform based on the 23andMe genetics data. The idea is that users fill out surveys (which, I guess, earlier quizzes on the site have softened them up for), which are correlated with the genetics, and which can be used for medical research. Surveys could be created by researchers and end up getting peer-reviewed, or could be set up by concerned groups on the service, like parents of children with particular syndromes.
The service is still too expensive to generate reliable, broad-based data, but the new direction opens up 23andMe to research grants that can be applied to collecting genetic information from people who would otherwise not participate in the service.
The growth of genetic testing like this for more people is inevitable, and the price will continue to drop. If you want your genome sequenced but don't want to spend this kind of dough for it, just hang tight.