TR: How do you respond to the criticism that it is too early to offer this type of genetic information directly to consumers?
Wojcicki: Part of the reason we started this company is that we want to accelerate the pace of research. We want personalized medicine to be a reality. Instead of being reactive–you have this disease and we’re going to treat it–we want to focus on prevention. Are you at high risk for type 2 diabetes? Are there things you can do to prevent that?
TR: How would this product accelerate the pace of genomic research?
Avey: We’ll have the ability to collect massive amounts of information from customers. We’ve sent out a few surveys now, and we’ve been pleased and excited by the response.
TR: What kind of surveys?
Avey: We’re starting with broad questions that everyone can answer. “Are you left- or right-handed?” “Are you a night owl or an early bird?”
Wojcicki: I was surprised by the percentage of people that sneeze when they see bright sunlight.
TR: Is that genetically determined?
Wojcicki: We don’t know. This is a chance to find out. Because we already have their genetic information in the database, we can start to separate them out into those who sneeze and those who don’t, and see if any genes start popping out.
Avey: Future surveys will delve more into specific disease areas, such as Parkinson’s disease and gestational diabetes.
TR: 23andMe recently cut the price of its service from nearly $1,000 to about $400. Why?
Avey: The cost of genotyping technology is dropping–everything is getting cheaper and faster. We are all about democratizing genetics. The more people we have enrolled, the more quickly we can start making genetic associations of our own.
TR: What have you found most interesting in your own genome?
Wojcicki: Caffeine metabolism is really interesting. I love coffee.
TR: Do you find that fast metabolizers like coffee more?
Avey: I’m a slow metabolizer. I can drink a cup of coffee and go straight to bed, maybe because I just don’t metabolize it.
Wojcicki: When I drink coffee, I’m really happy.