It’s a family reunion on the internet

March 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm Leave a comment

Now that I’ve received my results, I’ve had time to play around with the 23andMe social network. 23andMe provides you with much more than a genetic test: the infrastructure that the company offers to connect with other users is astounding.

23andMe has provided me with a list of potential relatives that are currently on the network through the Relative Finder tool. The tool allows me to look for shared DNA segments in order to predict common ancestors and the degrees of separation between us.

By using Relative Finder, I found that I have a lot of predicted third cousins, people I share great-great grandparents with, in the 23andMe network. However, the relationship could actually be anywhere from third to tenth cousins. According to 23andMe, there are 987 users that I am at some point related to. It is actually very common for Ashkenazi Jews, as I am, to be genetically closely related despite geographical distance (Kopelman).

Another feature is the genome-sharing tool. This tool allows me to compare my genomic information with other members of 23andMe to look for a percent similarity between us. I can also compare whether I and another user share genetic information that confers to specific phenotypic traits, but since I only have the ancestry edition of the 23andMe genetic test, these traits are limited to non-medical phenotypes such bitter tasting, circadian rhythm, and endurance. Genome sharing is not limited to the users that are identified by 23andMe as my “relatives.” Linda Avey, one of the original co-founders of 23andMe, is not on my list of potential cousins, but she graciously accepted my genome-sharing request and now I can compare my genomic information to hers.

Yet another networking opportunity provided by the site is the community discussion forums.  Here, members post in groups such as maternal and paternal haplotype groups, ethnicity groups, and geographical ancestry groups. On the discussion board, users compare family histories and common last names, ancestry success stories, and even medical histories.

This model of networking around genetics and health isn’t unique to 23andMe. Many companies are emerging that offer connectivity and empowerment tools to complement their health or genetics-related products and services. Financial analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers have also predicted that more companies like this will also emerge in the near future to capitalize on the trend of personalized medicine (PwC Health Research Institute).

Works cited in this post
Kopelman, Naama M. “Genomic Microsatellites Identify Shared Jewish Ancestry Intermediate between Middle Eastern and European Populations.” BMC Genetics 10.80 (2009). Print.
PwC Health Research Institute. The New Science of Personalized Medicine. Publication. PricewaterhouseCoopers, 17 Dec. 2009. Web. 20 Jan. 2010.

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Entry filed under: my results.

And the results are in! Why should I share my genetic information?

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