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Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

RSS for the Genes

The New York Times had an article yesterday about Google's investment in the personalized genetics company 23andme, founded by Sergey Brin's wife Anne Wojcicki. The best comment came from investor Martin Varsavsky (founder of fon), who said:

“What used to cost billions now costs only $1,000,” Martin Varsavsky, an entrepreneur who has invested in the company, wrote recently in his blog. “So for the price of a laptop you can now learn the most intimate details of your genetic self.”

Mr. Varsavsky wrote that as medicine advanced, those who have had their genes mapped could be notified of developments concerning their own genes, including news of relevant drug discoveries.

As Nat wrote in email: "Brilliant! RSS for my genome."

Martin commented further on his blog:

23andme is the ultimate user generated content site in the sense that users contribute their most intimate content, their genes. Why would people do this? Many reasons: desire to know how closely related they are to others, ability to understand human history through genes, increasing the chances of surviving negative genetic conditioning, helping medicine. The risk in this venture is similar to most in the web 2.0 world and that is that the user generated content, this time in the form of bodily fluids, does not materialize. Will people actually send their samples? I really hope so because it would be of great benefit to all.

The ultimate user-generated content site indeed.

P.S. The NYT needs to figure out what links are for. In their story, they linked to Google, Harvard and Yale, easy to find (and in the case of Harvard and Yale, only minimally relevant), but failed to link to 23andme, its founders Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey, or Martin Varsavsky's blog, from which they quoted. Hey guys, links are for providing citations, or more information!

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Comments: 10

Search Engine WEB   [05.30.07 02:35 AM]

The collective samples would be biased towards the very educated populations of our planet, which correlate heavily with the more affluent residents of industrial nations.

Unless there was a widespread, proactive approach to get voluntary genetic information from all areas, all cultures and all ethnicities - the project could never reach its fullest potential as an representative information resource of our society.

This would require immense, global publicity, great funding, and tenacious, multi-lingual volunteers to travel and translate into rural and third world areas.

Perhaps, there could be a partnership with Doctors without Borders,CARE or the Red Cross to help with some of the efforts.

Richard   [05.30.07 03:09 AM]

Can you say the mother of all data leaks? Seriously, I barely trust a 'traditional' doctor to keep my medical history nowadays, so I really don't want some cool Web 2.0 company aggregating my genome, dumping tapes in the trash with my genetic analysis on it, etc.

I really don't want to imagine the day when I get an email saying "Here are your results - you have a genetic tendency towards impotence, so we recommend you buy GENU1NE V1AGRA from our partner pharmacist..."

BillyG   [05.30.07 05:27 AM]

I saved that article yesterday in my Genetics category. From early April, I noticed this comment I left myself:

Watson agreed a couple of years ago to have his DNA sequenced and publicly released; now he’s having second thoughts. Genetic privacy isn’t written into the Constitution, so many lawyers and ideologues would argue you have no right to it.

It certainly seems like husband, like wife - that whole 'all information' thing certainly rings true here.

'RSS for my genome' IS classic though!

Andrew   [05.30.07 06:19 AM]

The NYT linking decisions are pathetic, and I think they're reasoning is they don't want to accidentally get associated with controversial content. If NYT link to Martin's blog, and then tomorrow Martin write a post titled "DEATH TO THE CARRIERS" Verizon might pull their ads from NYT. By linking to places like Harvard and Yale, the NYT knows they will not be surprised by accidentally associating their name with controversial content. I'm not trying to defend the NYT; I think their link decisions are spineless, but that's my best guess at what drives their decision making.

Ignasi   [05.30.07 03:05 PM]

That's very scary!
I love Google services but a "GoogleGenome" or whatever would be too much. Genetic information should be kept in strong secret between you and the medician. Giving it to public could carry you serious trouble with insurance companies, employers,...any kind of genetic discrimination for any reason (true or not)! And what about your relatives? They could also suffer discrimination because YOU decided to make public your genome.

It's not so cool afterall.

Blaine   [05.30.07 05:22 PM]

It's true that security issues are among the biggest concerns facing a company like 23andMe, and I'm sure they know that better than anyone. I don't think anyone is suggesting that these genomes will be entered into a publicly searchable database, rather they will be analyzed and stored for the customer in a protected manner. Safety concerns aside, in a few short years genome sequencing will be a standard part of almost ANY type of medical care. Luckily the federal government is making some advances towards protecting every individual from genetic discrimination (i.e. the recent GINA legislation).

martin varsavsky   [05.30.07 11:53 PM]

You are right Tim. What passes for an interview is actually quotes picked up from my blog without links to it.

cova   [05.31.07 02:39 AM]

Will someone ask you before marrying or wanting to have kids with you?

Cristian Sepúlveda   [06.01.07 08:36 AM]


You could make the same, linking Martin´s blog when you write : "...or Martin Varsavsky's blog.." in the last paragraph

Tim O'Reilly   [06.01.07 12:17 PM]

Cristian, the reason I didn't link to Martin's blog in the paragraph you mentioned is that I'd already done it above, right before the point where I quoted from the blog.

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