Genealogy and you

A few nights ago I attended a talk at Action Potential Labs here in Toronto. The talk was by Dr. Ruslan Dorfman, a molecular geneticist and CEO of Geneyouin. He was speaking on “advancements in genome sequencing technologies and new opportunities”. I will confess that a good chunk of his talk went over my head (I was also tired from work), and while I wanted to write a recap of it soon after, I was unable to. I’ll do the best I can now.

During his talk, he (and several of the attendees) brought up 23andMe, a “DNA analysis service”. For $100, you send them a swab from your cheek and they give you an ancestry report and potentially tell you some genetic markers you have that indicate an increased risk of certain diseases.

Dr. Dorfman worked to explain how DNA sequencing is actually done and what 23andMe does compared to what people think they do. Dr. Dorfman explained that while $100 for a brief report seems like a good deal, if you wait a few more years, you will likely be able to get your full genome sequenced for just $500 or so, maybe even less. He also said that technology is in development that will be like a USB thumb drive that you can put your sample into and plug it into your computer and go, though these units will be closer to $1,000 initially.

I also just stumbled onto a very long, but well written and well researched article on Medium about DNA testing and ancestry in general – “23 and You”. which talks about both the upsides and downsides of the practice – for instance, getting your DNA tested could potentially reveal major life altering secrets, such as you being adopted but your parents never told you. The article also explains how even if you don’t get tested yourself, family members of yours getting tested might expose you to a degree anyway. Also – the process is not anonymous (even if you were to submit anonymously, they could figure out who you are), and in the American health system, if one of these tests finds that you have a genetic pre-disposition to a certain disease (or perhaps that one of your parents do and passed the gene to you), you could theoretically get denied medical insurance because of that.

23andMe is currently under review by the FDA.

There is much more to this topic than I can effectively cover in a blog post, but at least now it’s on your radar and you can ponder the implications if you were considering getting the test done.

As for a cool thing to come out of the talk, Dr. Dorfman brought an item for show and tell, which I was able to get a good picture of with my phone:

dna-chipIt is an enlarged mock up of a computer chip that is used to sequence DNA.

I don’t entirely remember the explanation of how it works, but the chip is called Ion 316, and here is more info: http://www.lifetechnologies.com/order/catalog/product/4466616

I had no idea that this technology was at the point that it is, and in just a few years, the world could get blown open by what comes of it.

I also want to give a friendly shout out to Action Potential Labs, if you are in or around the Toronto area, they are worth checking out. Here’s more:

Action Potential Lab is Toronto’s first laboratory dedicated to merging science and art. It is here where the teachings of both fields interact and exchange by way of classes, workshops, birthday parties, lecture series and various community outreach programs.

Care to share your thoughts?