Personal genomics: Care to update your haplogroup status page?

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Fellow haplogroup members (Credit: Valerie Reneé via Flickr)

Earlier this week, my friend posted her ancestry.com results on Facebook. She was more than 90 percent Anglo and found the results pretty surprising for someone who was was always told she was “an American mutt.” Last year another friend found out she and a former co-worker were 4th cousins from their 23andMe profiles.

I’m not the first person to notice the overlap between social media and personal genomics. Miguel Vilar at National Geographic covered the International Conference for Genetic Genealogy and found that professional scientists had a lot of say about citizen scientists:

The public is generally more comfortable talking about their personal genomic details and a general interest in science has increased. As a result, people are encouraging friends and family to test and study their DNA. Who knows? As more people participate and find new connections and matches, genetic genealogy could become the new Facebook of science!

In fact, there are Facebook groups centered around haplotypes, groups of people that can trace their descent to a common ancestor and location because of specific genetic markers.

In the wake of the Nov. 2013 FDA warning that caused prominent personal genomics company 23andMe to stop reporting health information to its customers, many business and genomics experts worried customer demand for these services would drop. But that has not been the case. In fact the company genotyped more than 150,000 customers since the FDA’s action. “Things are still absolutely growing for us,” 23andMe’s director of business development Drabant Conley told Genomeweb.

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Trends in personal genomics customers (Credit: Chart courtesy of Spencer Wells via National Geographic)
Trends in personal genomics customers (Credit: Chart courtesy of Spencer Wells via National Geographic)

Since 2012, growth in the number of customers accessing their genomes has grown exponentially. By the end of this year 2 million people are expected to be genotyped. Although some companies keep their results proprietary, other projects like National Geographic’s Geneographic Project want to harness consumer interest in ancestry data to rapidly expand research into human origins.

It will be interesting to see how far public curiosity will advance this research and when the medical community will find a way to jump on board.

Meredith Knight is a blogger for Genetic Literacy Project and a freelance science and health writer in Austin, Texas. Follow her @meremereknight.

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