Do Ask, Do Tell

This week 23andMe will begin surveying its members to study the biology of sexual orientation.

The survey was prompted in part by customer interest, and fueled by our own scientific curiosity. We’re also launching the survey during “Come Out For Health” week, a nationwide event that has for the last nine years sought to promote health in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

23andMe’s unique approach compares genetic data from customers with data from their responses to surveys. This has led to discoveries of genetic associations with common traits as well as important insights into more serious conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

Our customers have participated enthusiastically in these research efforts submitting more than 35 million responses to surveys with topics as diverse as male fertility, eye color, and reactions to various medications. Customers also have great suggestions for research — and the most common request by far is for 23andMe to look at the genetics behind sexual orientation.

We won’t be the first to look into the topic, but it will be one of the very few genome-wide association studies of sexual orientation ever attempted. In developing the study we worked with multiple Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organizations to review our survey questions and help ensure that our research is conducted in an informed and sensitive manner.

To date heritability studies of identical and non-identical twins have suggested that sexual orientation is the product of both genetic and environmental factors.  A number of linkage studies have also pointed at a possible role for candidate genes located on the X chromosome. But the strength of that evidence is limited due to conflicting reports and the small sample sizes of those studies. We hope that our work will clarify some of the questions surrounding the possible genetic and biological underpinnings of sexual orientation.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, you can participate by taking this survey here.  You must be 18 years or older to participate. Even if you’ve consented to research with 23andMe in the past you will again have to consent to take this survey. For questions email hpa@23andme.com.