Earlier this week while conducting Sunday morning errands, I turned on my local NPR station and listened to an interview with the founders of 23andMe, a new “web-based service that helps you read and understand your DNA.” In addition to the NPR feature, the company, co-founded by Linda Avery and Anne Wojcicki, has enjoyed a burst of positive media coverage, including a feature article in The New York Times. I first learned about 23andMe while attending the Health 2.0 conference earlier this year, as Esther Dyson is a board member.
After reading a lengthy Wired Magazine article about the company, I was struck by the fact that while there is great excitement about new genetic technologies, there is also a lot of uncertainty. For example, according to Wired:
“Starting a personal genomics company isn't like starting a Flickr or a Facebook. There's nothing intuitive about navigating your genome; it requires not just a new vocabulary but also a new conception of personhood. Scrape below the skin and we're flesh and bone; scrape below that and we're code. There's a massive amount of information to comprehend and fears to allay before customers will feel comfortable with the day-to-day utility of the site. 23andMe's solution is to offer a deep menu of FAQs, along with some nifty animation that explains the basic principles of genetics.”