What is 23andMe Really Up To?

23andMe is a genetic testing company that will analyze your personal collection of genes and suggest related health—and disease—implications. If you know you’re prone to developing a certain disease or condition, perhaps you can take steps beforehand to mitigate the risk.

The company was recently directed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop selling their service. Click for the FDA’s warning letter to 23andMe’s CEO.

Some have questioned 23andMe’s motives. Charles Seife, writing at Scientific American, has some ideas:

But as the FDA frets about the accuracy of 23andMe’s tests, it is missing their true function, and consequently the agency has no clue about the real dangers they pose. The Personal Genome Service isn’t primarily intended to be a medical device. It is a mechanism meant to be a front end for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public.

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What does 23andMe want to do with all that data? Right now the talk is all about medical research—and, in fact, the company is doing some interesting work. It has been sifting through its genomic database, which is combined with information that volunteers submit about themselves, to find possible genetic links to people’s traits. (The bright-light/sneeze genetic tag is a 23andMe discovery.) More promising are 23andMe’s attempts to recruit people who suffer from certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s and a few types of cancer. Simply through brute-force pattern matching, the company has a chance of finding genetic causes of these ailments, which could lead to a way to combat them. (And perhaps a blockbuster patent or three.)

That’s just the beginning, though.

Read the whole enchilada.

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