A genetics website that tests DNA on swabs of saliva sent in by customers began operating yesterday. The Silicon Valley venture is backed by web search firm Google. The site, 23andMe, is named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human body.
The firm says it offers the first "personal genome service" for $999 (Rs39,200) per customer. Its hi-tech analysis software, the company says, can read up to half a million points in an individual''''s genome. The service can help people understand their inherited traits and allow them to compare themselves with friends and family
Anne Wojcicki, one of the co-founders, is married to Google''''s billionaire co-founder Sergey Brin. Her firm, which was founded last year, received $3.9 million of investment from Google, in a transaction vetted and approved by the search firm''''s independent directors. The venture is based in Mountain View, the same town as Google.
A small controversy has erupted over the use of personal genetic information by people trying to assess their chances of contracting hereditary diseases; 23andMe says it has an "odds calculator" that can predict which ailments are more likely to strike customers.
The company is quick to stress, however, that this is "neither a medical diagnostic nor a substitute for medical advice". Rather, it says, it can help people understand the relative importance of genetics in comparison with diet, personal habits and the environment.
Brin - who is worth more than $20 billion - and Wojcicki were married in May in a ceremony on a sand bar in the Bahamas.