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Personalized gene testing is just $399 and a saliva swab away, thanks to 23andMe's consumer over-the-shelf gene-test-kit, TIME magazine's invention of the year.  (Source: 23andMe)
The magazine has declared a winner of its yearly invention recognition

Every year TIME magazine selects 50 inventions as its top inventions of the year.  Invariably, most of these inventions were well discussed here at DailyTech months prior, but the collection serves as a nice recap of the year's scientific progress.  The inventions are then ranked by what the editor perceives as their importance and TIME selects an "Invention of the Year".

Sometimes their choice is controversial, such as last year's pick which made Apple's iPhone the invention of the year for 2007. 

This year's pick is perhaps equally controversial, but for very different reasons.  This year's honors go to the retail DNA test offered by the consumer gene testing service 23andMe.

Founded by Anne Wojcicki, Yale graduate and wife of Google's President of Technology Sergey Brin, 23andMe is the talk of the town in Silicon Valley.  Mrs. Wojcicki's husband may own the rights to the title of internet king, but her own company has quickly become perhaps the king of genetics startups.

Co-founded with Linda Avey, the Mountain View, Calif. firm offers unprecedented insight into possible inherited genetic problems and facts, all at the consumers' fingertips.  The company offers a genetic profile based on a saliva swab sent in for processing by users who purchase the $399 off-the-shelf test kit.  The test generates risk profiles for 90 traits from baldness to blindness.

Other companies have tried to make a business out of selling similar tests, but 23andMe is the first to do it semi-affordably.  The result is a unique opportunity for the consumer.  Explains Mrs. Wojcicki, 35 years old,  "It's all this information beyond what you can see in the mirror."

The company is not without controversy.  Many feel genetics research is "playing God" or fear a dystopian future where genetic discrimination is commonplace.  TIME alludes to this but addresses the significance of the invention in its remarks, stating:
Not everything about how this information will be used is clear yet — 23andMe has stirred up debate about issues ranging from how meaningful the results are to how to prevent genetic discrimination — but the curtain has been pulled back, and it can never be closed again. And so for pioneering retail genomics, 23andMe's DNA-testing service is Time's 2008 Invention of the Year.
Despite the controversy the firm is attracting big investors -- Google, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch and Ivanka Trump.

Mrs. Wojcicki and her husband consider themselves model examples of how people should not be afraid to disclose their genetic profiles -- of course they don't exactly have to fear losing their jobs.  Nonetheless, the couple has disclosed that Mr. Brin has a 20-80 percent chance of a mutation that could cause Parkinson's disease for him someday.  They have a 50 percent chance of passing this on to their child, which Mrs. Wojcicki is currently pregnant with.

Says Mr. Brin, " don't find this embarrassing in any way.  I felt it was a lot of work and impractical to keep it secret, and I think in 10 years it will be commonplace to learn about your genome."

Fortunately some legal protection is in sight too, thanks to Congress passing a bill banning employers and insurance companies from engaging in genetic discrimination, signed into law by President George W. Bush in May.  However many fear the risk of social ostracism far outweighs the risk of commercial discrimination.

Mrs. Wojcicki and 23andMe are taking it all in stride, saying that despite opening Pandora's box, it's for a good cause.  Says Mrs. Wojcicki, "You're donating your genetic information.  We could make great discoveries if we just had more information. We all carry this information, and if we bring it together and democratize it, we could really change health care."


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novelty value?
By xsilver on 11/21/2008 9:54:57 AM , Rating: 3
Is it just me or is this going to be little more than novelty value? I mean if you're at real risk for something, it most likely would have shown up somewhere in your family tree. Otherwise what is the real point of knowing that you have a 2% chance of some horrible disease?

So I see this kit having value for 1% of the population, the other 99% will only purchase it for novelty value.

quote:
saying that despite opening Pandora's box, it's for a good cause.

The other value/cause is of course the $$ in the pocket?




RE: novelty value?
By BoogeyTent on 11/21/2008 11:12:23 AM , Rating: 2
So the other night I was swimming when I noticed that I was going considerably slower than usual. I checked my flippers only to find a large rip in my right fin.


RE: novelty value?
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 11/21/2008 11:21:55 AM , Rating: 4
This will be very popular in Alabama. They will be able to take this test before a wedding and find out if the couple are related before they are married. Not that it would stop the wedding, it just can be confirmed that they are cousins, siblings, or whatever...


RE: novelty value?
By Mitch101 on 11/21/2008 11:32:12 AM , Rating: 2
Parted-at-birth twins married

A pair of twins who were adopted by separate families as babies got married without knowing they were brother and sister, a peer told the House of Lords.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7182817.stm


RE: novelty value?
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 11/21/2008 11:45:38 AM , Rating: 2
Yea, I remember that story. I wonder how many Doctor visit it took to clear their heads. Imagine you find your true love, the person you are so passionate about, deeply in love with, sex partner.... Then one day you find out you also shared the same womb at the same time.

That just has to cause something to snap in your head.


RE: novelty value?
By Mitch101 on 11/21/2008 11:29:15 AM , Rating: 2
Wonder how many might go on drinking binges or worse saying my DNA test came back and I'm a 65% chance for some type of cancer before I'm 35 and blow their life.

Of course I expect most will try to circumvent the possibility by taking on a healthier lifestyle.

In the end the DNA testing company will sell the personal information to the insurance companies which will end up denying some people medical coverage/insurance knowing your odds of a paticular problem on a DNA level. All while you paid $399.00 for it.


RE: novelty value?
By SiliconAddict on 11/25/2008 2:41:54 AM , Rating: 2
I always love paranoid psychopaths. They are always so entertaining.


RE: novelty value?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/22/2008 10:17:48 PM , Rating: 2
> "What is the real point of knowing that you have a 2% chance of some horrible disease?"

There are countless reasons. If you're at risk for a disease, you can be screened for it more often, to have it caught and treated earlier. You can also possibly adjust diet and/or lifestyle to lower risk factors. A high enough risk factor might even affect your decisions for long-term financial planning and/or the decision as to when to have children, or whether or not to have them at all.


What do you have to fear?
By derwin on 11/21/2008 12:31:21 PM , Rating: 2
What is so horrid about genetic selection? We've been doing it as a species for about 30000 years (I think thats how old us homosapience are)... See all those women with child bearing hips and child feeding breast and men with money earning brains or animal killing arms?
They are genetically selected. Our brains are trained to genetically select people. This is just another manifestation of the greatness of man that we will soon do this more perceptively using tools - mans great accomplishment.

What do you have to fear? I would imagine the people who frequent this site have above average genes anyway. I for one welcome this. Perhaps I will be known to grow bald. Perhaps I have a susceptibility to heart disease. But in the scheme of things, I for one welcome competition on this level, and two love the idea of knowing that my child would have a low risk of genetic defects.

We strive towards human perfection. If this means trimming fat, then perhaps that is what will be done, regardless if we will it or not. Maybe that will be me - but I welcome the challenge.




RE: What do you have to fear?
By bldckstark on 11/21/2008 12:57:50 PM , Rating: 4
I for one welcome our new genetically superior overlords.


RE: What do you have to fear?
By elessar1 on 11/21/2008 4:21:04 PM , Rating: 2
Gattaca anyone???

( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/ )

cheers...


RE: What do you have to fear?
By geddarkstorm on 11/21/2008 1:52:09 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with these sort of "novelty" kits, for that's what they are at the moment, is the unscientific view it takes and gives the public about genetics. Genetics is only half of the equation, environment is the other. I don't mean environment simply where you life, but your cellular environment, determined by how you eat, sleep, exercise, what chemicals you're exposed to, your mental state, the live cycle stage of a cell, and what other genes are also being expressed at a given type and at what levels.

Some genes are advantageous under certain conditions, such as the sickle cell anemia mutation, and deleterious under others; so how can you say a gene is good or bad? This is why you cannot say if someone will get or not get something from a certain combination of genes unless you understand the environmental factors that influence the phenotypical outcome - then you can tell that person to avoid such environments and seek others to maximize the beneficial aspects of their genes and avoid a context that turns them deleterious. Otherwise, this only works when a genetic disease happens to be a dominant, Mendel style mutation such as with some types of Parkinson, diabetes, etc. Just look at that range listed in the article: a 20-80% chance? What a useless figure!

Take a look at Dandy-Walker malformation for another instance. There you can have people with visibly malformed brains but average or above average intelligence, and others who have the same Dandy-Walker mutations in the Zic1 gene yet normal looking brains, or the same malformed look, but who are mentally handicapped. The genetic mutation by itself didn't determine the outcome, but some unknown combination of factors during the development of the child, which happened to require this mutation to occasionally lead to mental retardation. But how do you even begin to guess just by looking at the Zic1 gene, and other Zic genes themselves?

We know only a very little about even how some of the clear types of genetic diseases work and are influenced by environment, let alone the rest of our gene products. This is why making medicine is a constant battle - as how do you manipulate the chemical environment to mitigate a certain "bad" gene without turning other currently good genes "bad" in this new environment you're creating, aka cause "side effects".

Because of this, because most genetic variation is not intrinsically good or bad, this whole "gene profiling" is snake oil, if you ask me. Until we understand much more about how environmental factors specifically affect specific genes and their corresponding phenotypes, this means nothing for anything other than, again, clear genetic diseases. Heck, this isn't even to mention how suites of genes interact with each other in a synergistic whole, so a "bad" gene might be "good" when put into combination with other genes that might be "bad" on their own as well. And heck, this isn't even bringing up non coding RNAs such as microRNAs and activating RNAs which can modulate gene transcription and translation in association with certain environmental cues! Seriously, the presence or absence of a gene doesn't fully determine its phenotypical effect, but how much it is expressed, when, why, and in combination with what, and how much that what is expressed, when, and why, and so on! We might as well be throwing chicken bones in a pot and trying to read magical prophesies from them when using such a kit like in this article!


Can they...
By InvertMe on 11/21/2008 2:22:11 PM , Rating: 2
Isolate the gene that makes people act like idiots on internet forums? I think we should selectively breed that one out of existence.




RE: Can they...
By SiliconAddict on 11/25/2008 2:51:04 AM , Rating: 2
The person who discovers that should win the Nobel Prize for Peace, Medicine, and a newly created prize for sanity.


Get validated now
By neon on 11/21/2008 11:35:51 AM , Rating: 3
Welcome to Gattaca. Validation line begins here. Your number will be called when your specimen has processed. Have a nice day.




...
By nah on 11/21/2008 9:52:38 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Invariably, most of these inventions were well discussed here at DailyTech months prior,


Touche !




Didn't read the article because...
By guy007 on 11/21/2008 2:29:06 PM , Rating: 2
Considering that Time's last "invention of the year" was the iphone I dont have much faith left in their judgement.




Seriously?
By JonnyDough on 11/21/2008 3:26:11 PM , Rating: 2
I mean come on! They chose the i-Phone...

This isn't even genius. It's just a test in a box, the same test that has been available for awhile now to the select few. ZOMG, genius!

Yawn. Find an award that means something and make THAT news instead.




By therealnickdanger on 11/21/2008 9:47:41 AM , Rating: 1
After all, he's the ultimate invention of the year.




Wish it had come out 1 year ago
By wordsworm on 11/24/2008 4:17:20 AM , Rating: 1
Surely I would have made my fiancee take it before we got married. Also, why wouldn't people be able to use this to screen for insurance or employment purposes? Surely it would help insurance agents make more accurate predictions.

Can having a couple's DNA help predict the DNA that their descendants might have?




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