Rewriting Life

Buyer's Guide to Personal Genomics

In new offerings, much fascination, not yet much utility.

In the past year, several direct-to-consumer genetic tests have been introduced to capitalize on the falling cost of genomic technologies and the flood of studies linking genetic variants to disease. The tests generally use two technologies: microarray analysis, which searches the genome for specific genetic variations, such as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), linked to disease or ancestral groups; and sequencing, which reads a DNA molecule letter by letter. Getting your genome examined is great fun. But the understanding of ancestry is still evolving. And broad genetic screening hasn’t been tested for its clinical utility.

Company: Genographic Project, Washington, DC

This story is part of our July/August 2008 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Cost: $99.95

Technology: Fragment analysis, SNP analysis, sequencing

What you get: Data on your haplo­group–ancestors with whom you share genetic features

What it’s good for: It can illuminate migratory paths taken by your ancient ancestors

Extras: Proceeds go to field research and a ­legacy fund supporting education and ­language-preservation initiatives in indige­nous communities

Company: DeCode, Reykjavik, Iceland; and 23andMe, Mountain View, CA

Cost: About $1,000

Technology: Microarrays that test for up to one million genetic variations

What you get: Information on ancestry, genetic risk of disease, and characteristics such as eye color

What it’s good for: The microarrays detect variations linked to disease and indicate varying amounts of risk; best for the cautious who want all information on the table

Extras: Both companies’ online interfaces let you compare your genome with those of family and friends; 23andMe’s also lets you compare your ancestry with that of notables including Bono and Genghis Khan

Company: Navigenics, Redwood Shores, CA

Cost: $2,500

Technology: Microarrays that test for up to one million genetic variations

What you get: Information on genetic predisposition to 18 diseases, including Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes

What it’s good for: Like the services from deCode and 23andMe, ­Navigenics’ tests indicate varying amounts of disease risk

Extras: This is the most medically oriented of the three micro­array analysis companies–and the only one that offers genetic counseling

Download a PDF of the article.

Company: DNA Direct, San Francisco, CA

Cost: $175- $3,456

Technology: (varies by test) Various, through subcontractors

What you get: Information on your risk for more than a dozen conditions having very well documented genetic components, such as cystic fibrosis and breast cancer

What it’s good for: Test results can inform preventive actions: someone found to have a mutation linked to breast cancer may choose prophylactic mastectomy, and prospective parents who both carry a cystic fibrosis mutation may screen their embryos

Extra: DNA Direct provides the most usable information for your personal-genomics dollar

Company: Knome, Cambridge, MA

Cost: $350,000

Technology: Sequencing

What you get: The sequence of your entire genome and an analysis by a team of scientists; customers get a personalized report tailored to their particular interests, which could pertain to health, ancestry, or physical traits

What it’s good for: Sequencing detects myriad genetic variations that can’t be identified with microarrays; if these variations are later linked to disease, customers could gain further insights

Extras: You’ll join a rarefied club whose members include genomics pioneers James Watson and Craig Venter–the first humans to have their genomes sequenced

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.