Emily Singer

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23andMe Sharply Cuts Cost of Genome Analysis

Will genome scanning become the next must-have accessory?

  • September 9, 2008

For about the cost of a Sony PlayStation 3, you can now order a genome-wide scan of your DNA. 23andMe, a California-based personal-genomics startup, backed in part by Google, announced a dramatic cut in price today (from $999 to $399) for its genome analysis service. Customers who order the service send in a spit sample and receive a genetic analysis that includes predictions of their risk of developing various diseases, evaluations of other traits, and ancestry information; customers can even opt to compare their genomes with those of others. The company’s two main competitors, Navigenics and Decode, offer similar services for $1,000 to $2,500.

According to an article from the Associated Press,

[Company founder Linda] Avey says one inspiration for the company’s new pricing came from the iPod and iPhone, which sold for a similar amount in their early incarnations. The company hopes that consumers will start to see personal gene scans as similarly accessible technology with both serious medical value and gee-whiz appeal.

A press release from 23andMe says the price cut is enabled by improvements in genome analysis technology. The company uses gene microarrays made by Illumina, which have also been quickly dropping in price.

However, others speculate that 23andMe’s price cut was fueled by an attempt to remedy lower-than-expected sales. Perhaps tellingly, the company has not yet revealed how many customers have subscribed to its service.

Another personal-genomics startup in Cambridge, MA, Knome, also expects to announce price cuts soon. Knome’s service sequences and analyzes the entire genome, rather than specific areas, as 23andMe’s does. As a consequence, it currently costs $350,000.

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