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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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