New Web Service Lets Users 'Google' Their DNA

Dennis Faas's picture

Personal DNA profiling now has an official place on the web, thanks to the Google-funded company 23andme. (Source:

Last week, 23andMe launched a web-based service which, for $1,000, will allow users to access and interpret their genetic information. The company name refers to the number of chromosomes in the human genome. (Source:

Users submit their DNA by mail in the form of saliva samples, and can view their results on a personal homepage within the 23andMe site. The results include information about the user's ancestry, inherited personal traits, potential disease risk, and things they may have in common with others around the world.

Although similar technology has been available for some time, this is the first time in history that individuals have had access to a complete, web-based analysis of their genes for a low price. By using a specialized microchip 23andMe can provide an inexpensive, efficient, and unique analysis that would not have been possible in the recent past. (Source: The mission of 23andMe according to co-founder Linda Avey 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."

Sharing personal genetic information is a main focus for 23andMe -- the interactive website invites users to link their profile to participating family members and friends so they can compare data. There is no limit to the number of people that can be connected and compared in this way, providing the individuals have paid for the service.

The ability for 23andMe users to network is interesting, especially considering the ties between the company and Google. In addition to Google's start-up funding, 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Google's official activities in connection with 23andMe have been purely financial so far, but there is room for speculation as to where Google's investment will take the company in the future. The Google conglomerate has made no secret of its interest in social networking platforms, and with the development of innovations such as the Open Social platform, it seems as though all social networking sites may eventually fall under Google's umbrella.

The ability for 23andMe users to network certainly has interesting applications. However, there are also several areas for concern. Some genetic professionals fear that many people may not be able to handle negative information, or that the science has not caught up with the technology fast enough to provide all the answers.

Other potential problems could result from the misuse of an individual's information. The 23andMe site does have multiple levels of encryption, but data leaks could result in forms of "genetic discrimination."

23andMe does have an extensive privacy and consent policy in place, and users have the ability to delete their profiles at any time. The company has no plans to sell user's info to third parties, although participants are advised that their records may be used in future medical research.

As personal DNA technology advances and becomes more accessible, there are bound to be many interesting developments. Will DNA profiles be the newest application on Facebook? Will we see the launch of a "Google DNA" search feature? It is much to soon to tell, but in the words of 23andMe, "The revolution in personalized genetic information has only just begun."

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