Dealing in DNA


Mary Lucia at the Current occasionally asks me deep-thinking questions like, “if there were a reliable test that could predict Alzheimer’s, would you take it and would you want to know?”

Now, we all get to decide for real.

A company, 23 and Me, has just launched, giving anyone who wants to pay $999 for a “saliva collection kit,” the opportunity to explore their future (and maybe understand their present a bit more).

The company analyzes the DNA, and then puts the results online for you to play with.

The 23andMe Odds Calculator allows customers to combine genetic information, age, and ethnicity to get an idea of which common health concerns are most likely to crop up. Right now it’s limited to a little more than dozen: breast cancer, Crohn’s Disease, MS, diabetes and — I have no idea why this is significant — earwax type.

The Gataca-like “what ifs” here are astounding to contemplate. What if it showed an inclination toward a particular affliction? How would it change your life? What if your online DNA fell into someone else’s hands online — a potential employer, for example. What if, in the future, Facebook, 23andMe, and online dating converged? What if 23andMe met Google?

Given that the idea has already led to a social phenomenon — spit parties — one wonders how seriously the questions are being considered.

Update 8:15 a.m. – In other DNA news, one of the scientists who decoded the human genome says they may be able to create an artificial life form next year. (Listen) Oh, and he’ll save the planet, he says.

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