Service unlocks the human genome for the consumer

A new Google-backed service aims to allow interested users to search through their own DNA to find out information about their own genetic makeup or predisposition for certain diseases.

"The mission of 23andMe is to take the genetic revolution to a new level by offering a secure, Web-based service where individuals can explore, share and better understand their own genetic information," said Linda Avey, a biopharmaceutical expert and the site's co-founder.

Healthcare investor Anne Wojcicki joined with Avey in establishing the site. Avey is the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose company is an early investor in the project.

Both Avey and Wojcicki feel that consumers should have the opportunity to understand more about their genetic makeup and what it could mean for them. They plan to eventually incorporate social networking into the mix as well.

For example, with the user's consent, the system would match up those with similar predispositions, creating support groups for diseases, even before that person is diagnosed.

The service does not come cheap. Each kit, which includes a test tube where customers are asked to spit into and return to the company's contracted labs, are intended for one person and run $999 USD.

However, the price may be small to pay for some who may find out they could be shelling out many times more than that in the future due to some disease they may end up contracting later in life.

"We believe this information provides intriguing insights into an individual's genetics, with the goal of expanding the collective knowledge base by enabling active participation in research," Wojcicki said.

While this could work in a positive way, some worry it could work just the opposite. For example, one law professor at Stanford who has been looking at these new genome-based services said it could have a negative effect.

Professor Hank Greely gave one example to the San Jose Mercury News where a woman stops getting regular mammograms due to finding out she is at low risk for breast cancer through a service like this.

For those concerned with the privacy implications, the company said regular audits would be performed in order to ensure that all data would remain secure. Data would only be shared with the customer's explicit consent, and are kept on a separate, secure server.

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