23andMe Genome Research Day

Every day at 23andMe is a research day.

Joyce Tung, 23andMe’s Vice President of Research, listening in on sequencing and imputation.

But recently, we had our very first “23andMe Genome Research Day”, during which our scientists shared a little about what we do, and learned about some of the cutting edge work being done by outside academics and researchers.

More than 100 scientists from universities and research institutions around the San Francisco Bay area attended the event, which was the brainchild of our vice president of research Joyce Tung, PhD, who worked with her team to put it all together.

“We wanted an exchange of scientific ideas with our local scientific community,” said Joyce. “And we wanted to showcase some of the work being done every day by scientists at 23andMe.”

This kind of collaboration happens all the time during large conferences like the annual American Society of Human Genetics, where we always have a large presence. But this event offered us a less formal way to meet with outside scientists and to exchange ideas. The day included presentations from 23andMe researchers, as well as researchers from several universities in California. There was also a poster session, offering scientists a forum to showcase their work and talk one-on-one with each other.

Aaron Kleinman, PhD, discussing strategies for sequencing and imputation.

This collaborative exchange is also a key part of what we believe in here at 23andMe. Our mission is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. Part of that mission means that we work in collaboration with outside researchers to make discoveries. 23andMe has published more than 75 papers and much of that work has been done with outside collaborators. Science is often a collaborative process, so the Genome Research Day also offered 23andMe a chance to talk with scientists with whom we may want to work together with in the future, Joyce said.

23andMe researchers offered a peek at our work in sequencing, imputation, multi-variant modeling for risk predictions and therapeutics, while outside researchers presented posters on a range of topics some looking at human genetic variation and even Neanderthal population dynamics.

Aaron Kleinman, a 23andMe senior scientist and computational biologist, talked a little bit about the services we offer customers, as well as the efforts the company is making to improve diversity in genetic research. Aaron talked about two of those initiatives, one to create sequence panels for people of Ashkenazi Jewish Ancestry and the other to create a panel for African Americans to be used as a reference dataset for health research. The de-identified genetic data that is part of our African American Sequencing project will then be made available to other qualified researchers at institutions around the world. The hope is that this will help alleviate some of the disparities in health-related genetic research. With its large number of customers of diverse ancestry, this is something that 23andMe is “uniquely situated to do,” Aaron said.

On top of discussing what we currently are doing, 23andMe scientists also talked a little bit about what the future holds. Nick Furlotte, a 23andMe senior scientist and statistical geneticist, talked about the use of machine learning to create new types of polygenic risk prediction models. Health and traits are complex and are influenced not just by genetics, but by lifestyle, diet and environmental factors. With larger pools of data, more sophisticated computing power, Nick said 23andMe has the opportunity to create much more detailed and personalized health reports.

All in all the day was a success, said Joyce.

“Doing great science doesn’t mean much unless you share it with others. We were happy to have the chance to share some of our work and to learn about what about the great things our neighbors in the scientific community are doing,” she said.