Your DNA, Decoded: 23andMe and Predictive Medicine

The December issue of Wired, on newsstands next week, has a story I’ve written on the debut of genomic medicine, via 23andMe, the much-anticipated startup. The story is now up here on I was fortunate enough to get an up close look at the inner workings of 23andMe, shadowing company founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki (shown here) off and on over the course of the past few months.

The story, though, isn’t just about the company as another Silicon Valley startup. I was especially interested in the challenge they face in turning the very raw science of genetic discovery into a consumer friendly, retail service. Given that research into genetic associations is still quite early, and given that the medical establishment is just barely on the case, it’s an especially compelling story about how individuals will be responsible for learning a huge amount in order to make sense of - and take advantage of - the genetic information 23andMe offers.

Readers of this blog will know that I was especially interested in how the company plans to use the pool of genetic data from its customers. While maintaining all privacy, 23andMe will be tapping the data for further genetic research, particularly towards orphaned diseases that are not presently the subject of much research.

There were, alas, some things I had to leave out of the story, particularly a discussion of George Church’s Personal Genome Project (which I plan to return to in a later story), or a discussion of GINA and privacy regulations. has a nice update to that story in a sidebar here. also has a clip from an interview Linda and Anne did with Wired Science, our TV show with KCET on PBS. That episode airs this coming Wednesday.

There are a couple gems in the story - a tidbit about how the company plans to move into whole genome sequencing, and other details. There’s also an easter egg of sorts in how the story is laid out in the physical magazine, that’s not evident in the online version. I’m very curious to see if anybody spots it.

The debut of 23andMe and its competitors, DeCodeMe and Navigenics (and surely there are more out there about to pop up) marks a very significant inflection point in our society. Predictive medicine is now not just a theoretical possibility that we should prepare for; it is very much a reality, available for just $999 (or, a bit more crassly, for DeCodeMe’s “introductory promotional price” of $985).

There is a lot we still need to do - more science, certainly, but also more introspection, as a society, for what’s around the corner, and more planning, in the health industries, for how this should be handled. But on the whole, I have to say I think it’s a very good thing.

Please let me know what you think of the piece - either here or in comments at the story.

Published by: tgoetz on November 17th, 2007 | Filed under Media, Genetics

11 Responses to “Your DNA, Decoded: 23andMe and Predictive Medicine”

  1. Thomas Says:

    For a comment, see

  2. Blaine Says:


    I thought you did a great job introducing the reader to the company and to the major players, as well as many of the thorny issues associated with genomic testing. It sounds like it was quite an experience. And I’m also sorry that you never got to meet your grandfather.

  3. 23andMe Launches Their Personal Genome Service » The Genetic Genealogist Says:

    […] Goetz, the author of the piece in Wired, wrote a post about the experience in his blog Epidemix (a fellow blog from The DNA Network). Mr. Goetz’s […]

  4. » Your personal health: Consumer genomics becomes reality » business|bytes|genes|molecules Says:

    […] Reading Epidemix ScienceRoll Berci reviews personal genetics companies A cautionary […]

  5. Attila Csordas Says:

    Compelling and pioneering article. One question:

    From the article:

    “In its lab, Illumina extracts DNA from saliva and disperses it across a 3- by 1-inch silicon wafer studded with more than 550,000 nanoscopic protein dots. Each dot detects a different SNP; more than half a million dots, strategically distributed across the human genome, cover a meaningful swath of anybody’s DNA.

    I am not familiar with microarray but I wonder whether those are really protein dots on the chip when it is about DNA sequences matched with oligonucleotides so usually in these cases the array contains immobilized nucleic acid sequences?

  6. SonnoProfondo » Blog Archive » Genetica “Retail” Says:

    […] con una vera operatività, come fa notare l’autore dell’articolo su wired sul suo blog, è puramente informativo e in quanto tale non costituisce un servizio di consulenza medica. In […]

  7. Get Your Personal Genome Decoded Here Says:

    […] Thomas Goetz at Wired and Epidemix […]

  8. GeneticsIsNotAJoke Says:

    I do not completely believe in the information about telling you how to live so that you can avoid certain diseases. The truth of the matter is that the exact science to predict such things DOES NOT exits and such speculations could cause a lot of panic among a person’s life. What I mean is that there is no model which exists today, and predicts that if a person has a certain variant in his genome, he/she will get the disease in the future. Even if we assume that such a thing exists, i.e. if someone, somehow is able to test and tell you if you will get a disease in the future, NOTHING much can be done about it. The reason is simple: Pharama companies are not make PRE-Symptomatic drugs, i.e. they are only making drugs for diseases when you show symptoms of those diseases and almost nothing exists for you to take a drug, when you do not have the disease but might get it in the future. I believe such services by 23andme etc are just to increase panic in the world. Having said all this, it is definately a good service to offer, not now, but 10 years or so down the line, when you know exactly how these diseases are caused in the lifetime and when what can be done about them. I hope people really understand what they are doing before opting for such a service. If you have to get a disease in the future, it is better to enjoy your days in life till you get that disease, provided it is a disease for which nothing much can be done about it at this stage.

  9. Mr. Gunn Says:

    Excellent point, Attila. See. that’s what happens when journalists try to do science.

  10. Mr. Gunn Says:

    No offense, Mr. Goetz. Just kidding around.

  11. Aaron Says:

    I really like your articles. Most of the paragraphs are so rich that each could be expanded into a full story.

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