I just heard about The Root, a “Slate for black readers,” according to founder Henry Louis Gates Jr. Since Slate is one of my favorite sites, this is a cool development. So what’s that got to do with public health or genetics or medicine? Well, right there smack on the prime front page real estate is an unexpected service - a link to Gates’ AfricanDNA.com, Gates’ effort to bring some substance to the DNA ancestry market. There is a disclaimer that notes AfricanDNA.com is a separate company, but the link is otherwise seamless - here’s what it looks like on the home page (the DNA is on the right side, under “Roots”):
I have no criticism here - I’m not saying there’s a conflict. I find it noteworthy simply because it’s the first explicit combination of journalism and genetic services I’ve seen. These don’t seem like obvious complimentary partners, but with a little thought it actually makes sense. 23andme, for instance, is very much a content company - they’ve put a great effort in writing up their Gene Journals to help customers understand their genetic backgrounds and information. My hunch is that the utility of genetics as a consumer service will depend on the ability of companies to translate what this abstract science actually means for you. Sure, there are early adopters who get it and will sign up for the raw data.
But it’s really those companies that can put genetics in a relevant context - and companies that do so in a trustworthy way - that will really allow genetics and personal genomics to become a conventional bit of information. Since Gates has already said that this is pretty much his stated purpose in creating Africandna.com, I think it’ll be interesting to see how the Root and AfricanDNA continue to substantiate each other.