Bring Your Questions for Genetics Entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki

DESCRIPTIONAnne Wojcicki

Anne Wojcicki, a biotech analyst and biologist, is co-founder of the “personal genetics” company 23andMe — which, for a fee, will take a bit of your spit and map out your DNA to learn genealogical details as well as your risk factors for certain diseases. Clients can also join the company’s gene-themed social networks and share their genetic info with others. Sort of like Facebook for your innards.

Wired‘s Adam Rogers wonders whether services like 23andMe could lead to “genetic hypochondria,” leaked genetic information, or a spike in preventive measures that some may consider extreme.

Wojcicki’s husband is a moderately well-known tech guy who, thanks to his wife’s work, learned that he has a genetic mutation that makes him more likely to get Parkinson’s disease.

Before starting 23andMe, Wojcicki spent 10 years in healthcare investing with a focus on biotech companies.

She has agreed to take your questions, so fire away in the comments section below. (I wonder what she thinks of a fat tax — that’s a tax on fat food, people, not fat people.) As with all Q&A’s, we will post the answers here shortly.

Addendum: Wojcicki answers your questions here.


Gary

A tax on fatty foods would just cause food manufacturers to looby congress to reclassify their foods as 'healthy'. Then there would be constant bickering about which foods belong on the list of 'fat' foods and which don't.

A tax on calories wouldn't work either, since a 100 lb woman requires about half as many calories as a 200 lb man.

Megan

I have a question for Ms. Wojcicki--do the results tell how much of a risk a person is at for these diseases? Or does it just show you a list of things you're predisposed to, without any clarification?
Also, what is the DNA checked for? Just the basics like Huntington's, Parkinson's, or is it based on a health history people fill out?

Krishna

Hi Anne,
I am interested in the "genealogical" part. Would that mean that people'd be able to trace their family trees ad infinitum?
(It's not a prospect I completely relish).

Krishna

Joe

Do you expect the deflation in the cost of sequencing a base pair of DNA to continue at its current pace - even if other exponential deflation in computing and other information technologies stops? What do you think are possible scenarios that would stop the vast cheapening of genome sequencing?

Marla

Hello,
Until now I was unaware or your company but I find the idea very interesting.

My question is about the motives of your clients… Do you find that most people use your services for specific reasons (such as, my father died of a strange disease and I want to know if it's something I should be worried about) or if it more about curiosity (I want to know about the amazing complexities of my own body)?

david

Do you believe there is a genetic component to intelligence?

Greg

What kind of "genealogical details" can I learn from your analysis? Will you tell me if I am 1/4 Irish or 1/32 Cherokee?

Michael

People don't want insurance companies screening customers using genetic profiling, but do you think there's room for insurance companies (public or private) to use services like 23andMe to assist their customers pursue preventative measures? People (and regulators) may not want insurance companies to deny coverage to somebody because they're at a high risk of getting some form of cancer, but they might not mind being encouraged to get checked every year by their insurance company. Do you foresee a future where insurers might encourage clients to get genetic profiles as a cost-cutting measure?

Ginni

What types of characteristics are sex-linked?

amy b

Hi Anne,

I was bragging on your company around the dinner table last fall. My Dad took note and ordered me one of your kits for Christmas. (Cool Dad, right?)

I'm embarassed to say that I've let it sit on my shelf for several months. My excuse is that given my state of hightened sensitivity at the time (I was 6 months pregnant, and as an older Mom was completely freaked out about genetic maladies) I didn't want to tempt fate by sending the kit in and finding out that I had some terrible, irreversible genetic thing that I was destined to pass along to my offspring.

My question is this: given that you guys continue to improve your algorithms, etc, for finding out relevant info about a person's genetic makeup, does it make sense to continue to wait to send the kit in? Should I do it now? And, what about the kid---do you guys run genetic profiles for kiddos, too?

SFJoe

Hi, Anne,
How will your service deal with the emergent properties of complex traits? Many of the phenotypes we care most about seem to come not from variation in individual genes, but from the interactions among several. How does 23andme handle that?

Dylan

While completing a case study on the use of microarrays in cancer research, I was hit like a ton of bricks on the potential that lies in the creation of genetic databases which would track a patient's genetic profile along with their response to any treatments they receive. Apart in aiding to discover novel cancer subtypes, this information could then be used to aid the treatment of future cancer patients, allowing them to avoid treatments known to be ineffective on their cancer type. I find the thought of constructing such a database to be highly motivating, and am personally dedicated to seeing this happen.

23andMe has begun a program to collect genetic information from individuals of various diseases to aid in research projects. From both a business and research stand point 23andMe depends on people being willing to turn their genetic information over to a private company, my question is do you believe that the public is trending towards a more open minded take on such services? How much more work do you believe needs to be done in educating the public on the vast potential of these services?

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Tom!

Hi! I am thinking of getting a tattoo based on my genome. I am leaning toward nucleibase molecules down my spine in a single helix, starting with two guanine because I have a SNP where that pair predisposes me toward aneurism and cardiac disease.

My problem is that is only two molecules and I don't think the adjacent ones in my 23andMe raw data include what is really adjacent since the chip isn't exhaustive. Do you have any ideas what to do instead or if it would still make any sense to just do the molecules in my raw data in order? Does the concept make sense in the first place?

Thanks!

Jen

It seems that 23&Me's strengths in scientific literature curation and web interface development would be well-suited to presenting more complex personal genetic information as well. As the cost of sequencing comes down on a per-sample basis, does 23&Me plan to begin offering products based on more than just hybridization-based SNP analysis? What are the diseases or other research topics for which sequencing data might add the most value to your services?

Amanda T

I'd love to know more about your genetic counseling services and how often they are used by 23andMe customers. Do you have a general percentage of how many people make contact with the counselors as opposed to just doing their own research (on their own and with what's provided on your website)?

Raj Pandravada

A person's genealogical map might touch all parts of the earth, with its beginning in Africa. Examining maps of Caucasians and Asians, for example, might show a significant distance from the original African mother....

What percentage of non-Negroids mapped by you turn out to have a significantly African lineage despite their appearances? Asked another way, how many people turn out to be 'recent Caucasians' or 'recent Asians', if such terms even make sense?

Mark S.

How would gene expression levels be analyzed or even quantified in a personal genetics map ? Having a gene shouldn't matter too much if its suppressed. Having a copy from each parent plus over-expression would matter a lot. What is the state of the art today ?

M.B.

How does the service differ from http://www.familytreedna.com/products.aspx
My family participated in this for about a quarter of the price. The infromation supplied so far is very interesting.

Corey

Anne:

Are you hiring? I have a degree in biochemistry and your company sounds very interesting!

Mark

Here's an interesting interview on genetics given by Ellie Rountree on Rocketboom at the Consumer Genetics conference held in Boston, MA, recently.

http://www.rocketboom.com/personalized-genetics/

Linda Avey, the co-found of 23andMe is also interviewed!