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2007 in Review: Googling Your Genes

Genetic Crossroads
December 21st, 2007

2007 witnessed a sharp spike in the availability and marketing of direct-to-consumer genetic products - and in controversy about it.

Myriad Genetics, which holds patents on key genes related to breast cancer, launched the first mass ad campaign, including TV commercials, for a genetic test. Critics pointed out that the test makes sense for very few women

Here on the U.S. West Coast, pharmacies began selling over-the-counter paternity tests, offered by the company that brought you the "Pink or Blue" test.

DNA Direct, the leader in genetic tests for consumers, now peddles a $175 service to sample and archive your genetic material without the need for refrigeration. It subtly plays on dreams of immortality, and overtly on the holiday spirit: "Can't afford $1000 to buy your loved one the latest, "coolest" genetics offerings?...Check out a more modest but reasonable, forward-thinking stocking stuffer: DNA Archive."

­The most troubling developments in consumer genetics are the wide-ranging genome scans offered by Google-backed 23andMe and deCode, soon to be joined by Navigenics. While the companies try to cover their tracks with statements asserting the services are for informational - not medical - purposes, they raise concerns including privacy, discrimination, and appropriate interpretation.

David Hamilton at VentureBeat (and formerly of the Wall Street Journal), is skeptical of Navigenics:

How would you feel about a company that offered to scan your genes, only to lock up most of the information it finds so it can charge you thousands of dollars a year to dribble it back out to you? I'm not sure the term "personal genomics" would even apply here - it sounds to me a lot more like "corporate genomics," in which getting access to your genome would require handing it over to a company that assumes it knows better than you do which parts of your genome you're entitled to see.... Of course, the idea of sharing your DNA with others via a new online social network - GeneBook? - might seem to many people every bit as creepy as the idea of corporate genomics seems to me.


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