Family reunion time!
Digging around in your DNA is getting cheaper and easier all the time. For only $207, you can now subscribe to 23andMe’s genotyping service, for instance, which gives you information about your genetic background, potential disease susceptibilities, and other traits. And as the numbers of people in such companies’ databases climb into the hundreds of thousands, it has become possible for software to connect customers who share so much DNA, they may well be relatives. For adoptees who don’t have access to their adoption records and are curious about biological family, there’s never been a better time to go searching. The New York Times follows the story of one 42-year-old woman who, after learning she was adopted, finds her third cousin through a DNA service, and details the relationship that they form as she deals with the revelation that she is not, after all, the daughter of her adoptive parents.
About five weeks after shipping off two tiny vials of her cells from a swab of her cheek, Mrs. Vaughan received an e-mail informing her that her bloodlines extended to France, Romania and West Africa. She was also given the names and e-mail addresses of a dozen distant cousins. This month, she drove 208 miles from her hometown here to Evansville, Ind., to meet her third cousin, the first relative to respond to her e-mails. Mrs. Vaughan is black and her cousin is white, and they have yet to find their common ancestor. But Mrs. Vaughan says that does not matter.
“Somebody is related to me in this world,” she said. “Somebody out there has my blood. I can look at her and say, ‘This is my family.’ ”
When people talk about how genetics testing is paving the way for personalized medicine, there’s a subtext that’s not always made clear: that’s personalized medicine for Northern Europeans and their descendants. Non-whites are hugely underrepresented in most collections of genomes, which means if you’re Asian or African, it’s hard to say what genetic predispositions you might have to certain diseases, or how you will react to drugs that target certain forms of enzymes, for example.
What’s the News: When personal genotyping service 23andMe was founded in 2006, most people were understandably focused on the benefits and the dangers of knowing your chances of getting an incurable disease. But a major part of the company’s business plan was eventually leveraging their users’ information to explore the genetic basis of disease.
With more than 100,000 people now in their database, 23andMe has been turning that into a reality. They’ve just published their first paper focusing on the origins of disease, pinpointing two new areas of the genome involved in Parkinson’s.