If you could take a simple test to determine whether or not you were likely to develop Parkinson’s disease later on, would you? Sound a little macabre? Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey, co-founders of 23andMe, a gene testing service that topped Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2008 list, don’t seem to think so.
23andMe is the clever name for Wojcicki and Avey’s controversial new gene testing service that allows consumers to take a peek inside their genetic future. While 23andMe is certainly not the first of its kind, it made Time Magazine’s 2008 Best Inventions list largely for its accessibility and affordability to the public. Unlike other gene testing companies that sell DNA to the public, 23andMe takes a more consumer-friendly approach. The gene testing service, a saliva test that estimates your predisposition for more than 90 traits and can determine an array of conditions, costs $399. For less than the cost of a Playstation 3, you can learn about possible future conditions, from baldness to debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
Time Magazine’s Invention of the Year identifies and evaluates your biological roadmap, more than 600,000 genetic markers within your DNA, to determine potential future conditions.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Google, a company known for its innovation, support the gene testing service. Google donated nearly 5 million in funding to 23andMe. Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch and Ivana Trump are among Wojcicki and Avey’s clients.
23andMe isn’t without its critics. Genetic privacy is a major concern. In May, President Bush signed a bill that made it illegal for employers and insurers to discriminate based on genetic information. California and New York have unsuccessfully tried to block the genetic tests. Others are concerned that genetic information might become a prerequisite when pursuing a potential mate. Some just don’t want that kind of personal information recorded.
Some researchers point out that the tests are flawed, stating that many diseases stem from more than just genes, including environmental factors and personal habits.
Still, 23andMe gets people thinking about their health and evaluating their habits. The service offers consumers an opportunity to increase their quality of life. While the genetic testing can deliver some potentially devastating information, 23andMe clearly offers a number of benefits. Even undesirable gene results can have a positive outcome, encouraging people to adopt a healthier lifestyle and attitude. It’s little wonder why 23andMe topped Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2008 list.
Source: Time, November 29, 2008