Read Your DNA Story
“After 19 years of not knowing anything, and then just from spitting in a tube, I have a pile of information all about me.” “I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally have confirmation of my history.” “I have never had anyone look like me…It’s just great to find out who I am.” Well, as thrilling and amazing as these testimonies sound, understanding and decoding DNAs is the most exciting scientific discovery of all time. People have spent decades together trying to track down their lost genetic ancestry or loved ones for many years. Thanks to the “secret code” in all of us! Individuals can today get easy and affordable access to their genetic information and this is made possible by 23andMe. With an aim to help people access, understand, and benefit from the human genome, they generate the data that not only reveals ancestry insights but also enables groundbreaking research and innovative products.
“For a little bit of spit and a few hundred dollars, we can check out genetic predictions for traits we already know we have—perhaps blonde hair or blue eyes—as well as susceptibilities for diseases we may have yet to develop, such as cancer or diabetes,” notes Anne Wojcicki, the pioneer woman renowned for bringing genome mapping to the common man for tracking linage as well as medical treatment. Through her company, Anne has built one of the world’s largest databases of individual genetic information. Its novel, web-based research approach allows for the rapid recruitment of participants to many genome-wide association studies at once, reducing the time and money needed to make new discoveries, and the company has created a proven and standardized resource for finding new genetic association and confirming genetic loci discovered by others. “In a world where health is poorly understood, we use data to better understand wellness and disease. We bring science to our customers and help them use it in meaningful ways.”
As Simple As Spitting
Primarily, the company offers two Personal Genetic Services: Health + Ancestry and Ancestry. Both services require submitting a saliva sample using 23andMe’s saliva collection kit that is then sent to the lab for analysis. The Health + Ancestry Service provides insights on one’s health predispositions, carrier status, traits, wellness, and ancestry. This is done through analyzing, compiling, and distilling the information extracted from one’s DNA into 125+ reports that customers can access online and share with family and friends. This Ancestry Service helps to understand who one is, where his/her DNA comes from and his/her family story. This DNA information is then entered into the reports of 23andMe services: Ancestry Composition, Ancestry Detail Reports, Maternal & Paternal Haplogroups, Neanderthal Ancestry, DNA Family, and DNA Relatives to retrieve results. Upon receiving the sample, the company’s CLIA-certified lab extracts DNA from cells in the saliva sample and processes the DNA on a genotyping chip that reads hundreds of thousands of locations in the genome. Eventually, the genetic data is analyzed, and personalized reports are generated based on well-established scientific and medical research.
Betty’s Birthday Wish
Betty Jeannotte’s only wish when she turned 100 was to learn about her ancestry. “Years and years ago, I’d done a little research, but I never got very far,” she said. “And I was curious.” She got a 23andMe kit and a chance to work with a genealogist to find out a little bit more about her ancestry. He found 7 generations of her maternal family. The information added another layer to what she already knew. Her 23andMe Ancestry Composition showed she’s about 80 percent English and Irish with a little bit of German in the mix. That reflects accurately with what she knows about her parents’ family histories. Her mom was “of Yankee stock,” while her dad, who had been a vaudeville magician, was a Bostonian whose family originally came from Ireland.
For 23andMe, the mission is about transforming lives. They are keen to provide more regions, more connections and more ways to help people like Betty know their DNA story. Some ancestry services are records-based, which means that the data can be retrieved from historical records such as birth, death and marriage certificates, to trace a lineage. 23andMe offers genetics-based ancestry reports and tools, which means that they analyze a DNA to trace one’s lineage and learn about his/her ancestral origin through 23andMe Ancestry Composition.
Trace. Discover. Connect
Furthermore, 23andMe’s unique service, Haplogroups provides reports on one’s maternal and paternal lineage by identifying their haplogroups. A haplogroup can trace part of his/her ancestry back to a specific group of individuals in the distant past. This helps in understanding how the migration of one’s DNA tells the story of their ancestors. Alongside, one can explore genetic similarities and differences between themselves and their relatives using Share and Compare service.
“We can even point to specific Neanderthal DNA that is associated with traits that you might have, like height and back hair,” points out Anne. Even though Neanderthals vanished about 40,000 years ago, their DNA lives on. Research tells us that they interbred with humans around 60,000 years ago. 23andMe can tell how much of one’s DNA is derived from Neanderthals and how that compares to others. Moreover, 23andMe’s DNA Relative Finder helps in connecting with people who share DNA with you and message them. This enables them to meet relatives—maybe even hear new family stories, share photos and get a better understanding of their family’s’ history.
Making an Impact
Over the years, Anne’s determination and power has shocked the scientific world. As a part of her mission to change healthcare through empowering their consumers, her company also conducts its own research to try to identify new therapies for both common and rare diseases. “I am obsessed with bringing the consumer voice to healthcare.” To further this effort, 23andMe’s genetic research gives everyday people the opportunity to make a difference by participating in a new kind of research—online, from anywhere. Once participants answer online survey questions, researchers link their genetic data to study topics from ancestry, to traits, to disease. These contributions help drive scientific discoveries. On average, a customer who chooses to opt into research contributes to over 230 studies on topics that range from Parkinson’s disease to lupus to asthma and more. “With the help of our 23andMe community, we believe we can accelerate research and make an impact with our genetic data.” Alongside, all researches are governed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is an independent ethics panel that ensures all research is conducted in accordance with government and ethical guidelines.
For 23andMe, genetics is personal! This has in fact impacted many lives, over the years, by giving people a chance to “find family and answers”, “reveal ancestry”, “strengthen family bonds”, and “get a stronger sense of their self.” Anne calls this, “democratizing personal genetics and making it more accessible,” as she is considers each life story a pathway to connect to humanity and improve the world.