Sunday, November 25, 2007

This week, it's ancestry

Last weekend there was a lot of buzz about personal genomics (see Genome Technology Daily, "It was a Helluva Weekend for Personal Genomics"; or Eye on DNA, "DNA Network Members Discuss Personal Genomics Service Providers 23andMe, deCODEme, and Navigenics"; or my previous post). This weekend, it's ancestry. Today's papers had two interesting features on ancestry testing, both of which nicely echoed my own post about caution regarding ancestry testing ("On Genes"). First, the New York Times business section ("DNA Tests Find Branches but Few Roots") discusses the business of ancestry testing. The article is nice in that it compares the cost of ancestry testing by various companies, shows that results differ, and quotes Henry Louis Gates Jr. making reasoned assessments of the role that DNA testing can play. Second, the Washington Post reviews "The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA" by Edward Ball("Blue Blood, Black Genes").

The theme is clear. You can only learn so much about your ancestors from DNA.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ready or not, personalized genetics is here.

Yesterday's announcement by deCODE genetics that they would be launching a personalized genetics service, deCODEme (news release), means that a major player in gene discovery has just joined the growing field of companies offering personalized genetic services. As I wrote in my Nature Network blog, "On Genes" in "The Scientist Blogger and the Personal Genome," information about susceptibility to disease, potential for health or accomplishment and responsiveness to therapies is found in our genes, and it is going to be made available to people who want it. A lot of people are going to want it. Most are not going to be prepared to understand it. Even Jim Watson and J. Craig Venter aren't entirely sure what to make of their genomes. Genetic counseling may morph into a profession that serves everyone, not just those who faced with clear cases of genetic disease.

Journalists and scientists also have a role to play. Let me highlight three useful responses.

The New York Times has an excellent series called "The DNA age." These articles (all by Amy Harmon, at least so far), "explore the impact of new genetic technology on American life." One published today, "My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA" describes her use of the 23andMe service.

Bertalan Meskó, a blogger at "ScienceRoll," presents coverage of Personalized Medicine, including a summary of breaking news (today) and a review of services offered by Navigenics, 23andMe and Helix Health (last week, before the deCODE announcement).

I have started "Information on Genes," (ongenes), a web site that is intended to be a place where answers to questions on genes, genetics and genomics are provided by experts in the field. Questions will be posted anonymously but answers will not. I plan to solicit answers from people in the know. My hope is that ongenes will provide useful information to anyone trying to understand genetic tests, including professionals in the field.