"Recreational genomics," 4+ years on

By Razib Khan | January 22, 2012 12:45 pm

In an exchange with Mark Shriver, I was pointed to this 2007 position paper in Science, The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing. It’s an interesting historical artifact. Much of the critique was aimed at AncestrybyDNA, but it can be generalized. Now that 23andMe has ~100,000 customers, have the things which they worried about come to be? Perhaps one of the more curious aspects of all this is that individuals no longer need to rely exclusively on the commercial gatekeepers if they have their raw genotype.

I can accept some bioethical concerns about the implications of genetics. For example, if people use odds ratios too promiscuously in PGD. But the whole handwringing about the implications of a crisper genomic understanding of one’s ancestry seems to me to be a clear case of intellectual stakeholders worried about democraticization. In other words, scholars whose bread & butter is “race matters” are not particularly excited by the prospect of their study subjects shifting from passive acceptance of the taxonomies which are imposed from the outside, to constructing their own identities from novel information.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Personal genomics
  • Joe in Australia

    I subscribe to 23andMe. The first thing to bear in mind is that they don’t sample the entire genome, although I understand they hang on to your sample so that they can re-sample it as techniques improve. The second thing is that their customer base is very, very skewed, and it happens to be skewed to a population group that already lacks genetic diversity: Ashkenazi Jews. If you have Ashkenazi ancestry – even a single grandparent – you will match lots of distant relatives. Other groups are less well represented, and any matches found among those groups are likely to be genuinely identifiable as relatives.

  • http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/neuronculture David Dobbs

    Nice post, Razib. A point of fact: By chance (related to a story I’m working on) I asked 23andme last week how many customers they have; they told me it’s over 125,000.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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