The Google-funded, privately held company 23andMe launched today, offering Web users an opportunity to take a saliva-based DNA test to learn more about their genes and family heritage, as well as participate in genetic research. The cost? $999.
“Over the past several years, significant advances have been made in the field of genetics,” said 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey, in a statement. “The mission of 23andMe is to take the genetic revolution to a new level by offering a secure, web-based service where individuals can explore, share, and better understand their own genetic information.”
For $999, 23andMe will send individuals a saliva kit with a barcoded tube for a saliva sample. Customers mail the samples a lab on contract with 23andMe; the lab extracts the DNA, which is then exposed to a microchip-like genetic analysis tool made by Illumina. Although the analysis does not produce a complete point-by-point representation of an individual’s unique genetic map, the analysis does call out more than half a million points on the customer’s genome, including a proprietary set defined by 23andMe.
Once the analysis is complete, users will be able o securely log in to 23andMe’s site and explore their profile and ancestry using unique Web-based tools. Users can compare themselves to friends and family members and research what their genetic makeup may mean for them.
Services like 23andMe raise a host of privacy concerns—if an individual’s genetic profile were, say, to indicate a predisposition towards certain medical conditions, employers, insurance companies, or other organizations might treat an individual differently based on that information. 23andMe says it collects phenotypic information (about diseases, traits, and medical conditions) only if customers agree to participate in 23andM3-authorized research studies.
The company’s name comes from the number of paired chromosomes which contain human’s genetic sequence. 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.