Thursday, December 23, 2010

Doubts about “Personal Genomics”

I chose Family Tree DNA for my Velten y-DNA project because they have the largest database of results and host over 6000 surname projects, and they specialize in genealogy and nothing else. But it was hard to resist the 23andme year-end $99 offer. The 23andme tests include an Ancestral portion, with samplings from both y-DNA and mt-DNA (and I think autosomal DNA), and a Health portion that will supposedly screen me for risks of disease and for traits like baldness. In fact, the marketing hype on the 23andme web site heavily pushes the health aspects of their testing and has caused increasing scrutiny from the FDA and Congress.

I don’t expect any surprises (or even useful information) from the Health portion of the test. I can look in the mirror and see I have the baldness trait. Being a white male of European extraction, I already know that I have increased susceptibility to type 2 diabetes (and being a genealogist, I know my mother, her parents, and many others in my tree were affected by diabetes). The hopes for this type of personal genome testing are questionable (see this interesting article on The Bioscience Resource Project site). Except for the single-gene diseases such as Huntington’s we already knew about, all of the billions of dollars in genomic research performed in recent years has failed to yield any really new results on the causes of disease.

From the article above, it seems unlikely that the 23andme Health results can possibly offer me anything useful. The FDA has focused its attention on the licensing and regulation of what it views a medical device, and the offering of what appears to be medical advice. They should probably focus a bit on the claims being made. Despite the wasted dollars and effort gone into genomics, at least the cost of the chips and machinery used for gene sequencing has dropped to the point that the simple y-DNA and mt-DNA sequencing used by genealogists are now affordable by more of us.

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