Nature Genetics Editorial: When Customers Become Collaborators

toast.pngAn editorial in the February issue of Nature Genetics makes a number of excellent points about the potential that personal genomics services such as 23andMe have to directly engage the public in research, not just as subjects but as collaborators.23andMe was founded in part to harness the natural curiosity that results when people can see how new knowledge applies to them personally. When new customers join 23andMe they are not just getting access to their genomes and the scientific knowledge that gives it meaning — they are also contributing their genetic information to our research database. The hope of 23andMe is that they will be willing to take the next step and contribute additional information to enable the creation of even more knowledge.As the Nature Genetics editors observed, “it would be wrong to underestimate the motivational potential inherent in handing people their genomes and asking them to participate in finding out more … ”Once our database is large enough, we plan to ask our customers to provide additional information beyond their genetic data — it could be anything from symptoms of autism to shoe size. That information would be used in research that could discover even more genetic links to traits and diseases.Participation in these follow-on studies will be voluntary, but we believe that our customers’ curiosity and generosity will motivate them to take part. Our customers may even want to propose and help organize their own studies.The beauty of this arrangement is that every discovery our customers contribute to has the potential to make their own data that much more meaningful and valuable, and we think it could lead to rapid advancement in understanding of the human genome in general. We envision a virtuous circle of inquiry and discovery, as our customers repeatedly lend their data for research and reap the benefits of the new knowledge it produces, whether directly or indirectly.
  • Doogie

    This is exactly what I have been wanting to hear. A way for those that have had their DNA analyzed to be able to add thier own personal information. For me personally, I would like to be able to learn more about color blindness and which genes have caused me to be color blind. I have looked around in the literature but have failed to find anything that would connect with SNPs analyzed by 23andme. I also think that by allowing people to supply their own personal information will interest them to the point of more detailed research, I know I sure have. Keep up the great work!

  • Thanks for your comment, Doogie. The most prevalent types of color-blindness don’t lend themselves to the kind of SNP-based analysis we use at 23andMe. For a good explanation of the genetics behind color-blindness, try this page from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute site:

  • patrickglad

    What about contributing information on the function of SNPs? There is a SNP wiki SNPedia that allows this. Is this planned for 23andMe? I do research on genomics and there is plenty more information locked away on the genechips used here that is not displayed yet…