'Genetic testing is a duty if you're having kids'

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'Genetic testing is a duty if you're having kids'

23andMe offers a saliva test to create a DNA profile covering health, traits and ancestry. Have you taken the test yourself?

My family and I were some of the first people to be genotyped. It revealed I was a carrier for Bloom’s syndrome and my husband (Google co-founder Sergey Brin, from whom she is now divorced) was high risk for Parkinson’s disease. It was useful to know because we were planning children. I tested my son as soon as he was born and I tested my daughter’s amniotic fluid (while she was in the womb).

In October 2015, you relaunched your US test after a run-in with the FDA which put the health part in hiatus for two years. How are you regulated in the UK and are you confident you have got the right approvals?

We have an official CE mark to market the test in the UK and in a number of European countries and we are in constant communication with regulators. But I am never as brash and confident as I was five years ago about anything that has to do with regulation. It is a new technology.

Did the issue with the FDA damage the company?

It was a bump in the road but our intentions were always in the right spot. We are trying to enable low-cost healthcare and prevent rather than treat disease. We have made it affordable and easy to get all this genomic information. That resonates and I think has made it easy to win back trust again.

Why would people want to do this test and what should they do as a result?

For people who want to be proactive about their health there is a lot of information that we can provide. If you are going to have children I think you have a responsibility to know if you are carrying anything. A lot of people tend to do the testing once they are pregnant. I personally would rather go into the decision of having a child knowing this information because then I feel like I could be a better informed potential parent.

Should people test their children?

I think in the future that will be seen as standard. One of the first things I looked at for my children was whether they have lactose intolerance. Because it is so easy to modify behaviour and yet a lot of people go untested for life.

Is it just for fun that you include physical traits like whether you have a genetic aversion to coriander?

It is for more than that. Part of the mission of 23andMe is about genetics education. We are teaching you about why and how your genome makes you you. You are not just about death and disease. Trait reports can provide a non-threatening experience that people can relate to. No one is afraid of a coriander aversion.

What can you tell people about where they originate?

We look at what percentage of your DNA comes from populations around the world. When the company was first established we paid to sequence a set of samples from different populations. That data, which we made publicly available, became the reference population that we and other companies ended up using for ancestry. We have over a million genotyped customers now and we ask them where they are from, so we use that as reference data too.

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