Nov 192007

Wired has a great story about $1000 genetic tests:

Reading your genomic profile — learning your predispositions for various diseases, odd traits, and a talent or two — is something like going to a phantasmagorical family reunion. First you’re introduced to the grandfather who died 23 years before you were born, then you move along for a chat with your parents, who are uncharacteristically willing to talk about their health — Dad’s prostate, Mom’s digestive tract. Next, you have the odd experience of getting acquainted with future versions of yourself, 10, 20, and 30 years down the road. Finally, you face the prospect of telling your children — in my case, my 8-month-old son — that he, like me, may face an increased genetic risk for glaucoma.

The experience is simultaneously unsettling, illuminating, and empowering. And now it’s something anyone can have for about $1,000. This winter marks the birth of a new industry: Companies will take a sample of your DNA, scan it, and tell you about your genetic future, as well as your ancestral past. A much-anticipated Silicon Valley startup called 23andMe offers a thorough tour of your genealogy, tracing your DNA back through the eons. Sign up members of your family and you can track generations of inheritance for traits like athletic endurance or bitter-taste blindness. The company will also tell you which diseases and conditions are associated with your genes — from colorectal cancer to lactose intolerance — giving you the ability to take preventive action.

It is a very interesting read. I’m not really concerned about learning something I didn’t want to know – given the choice, I’d always want to know ahead of time. In fact, I would even be tempted to try out the service, if there weren’t little alarm bells ringing in my head:

…external parties will not be given any of your information without your consent, except as required to comply with legal requirements under applicable laws. Even when we are required to provide information, unless prohibited by law, we will attempt to notify you before providing your information to external parties.

While they won’t be handing out my data, who is to say what legal changes will happen in the next 10-20 years? What other ways would my data be open to mining? Would I be setting myself up for some future liability by gaining information about potential health risks? These questions make me think I would only do it if someone was providing an anonymous test, with no social aspect to their site.