Naughty personal genomics company makes good

The sometimes-controversial company 23AndMe - which will run a battery of tests on your genome for $500 - has finally offered proof that their methods can help scientists figure out the genetic basis for everything from freckles to disease.

A lot of people use the company's services to find out what their ancestry might be, or whether they may suffer genetic health risks. But the researchers who work there have been busy using data harvested from thousands of genomes to figure out how your genes work. Several 23AndMe staffers, working with scientists at Stanford and Columbia, published a paper in PLoS Genetics this month proving that they could make legitimate discoveries by having people fill out web applications and sending in their spit for genotyping.

Among other discoveries, the scientists believe they've located genes responsible for curled hair, freckling, and the "photic sneeze reflex" that causes people to sneeze when they walk into sunlight. They did this just by asking people whether they have curly hair, freckles, or a tendency to sneeze in sunlight - then crosschecking this data with commonalities between the genomes of people who answered "yes." This paper is just a proof-of-concept, so the discoveries may not sound very revolutionary right now. But imagine if you could harness the power of all this genetic data to zero in on the parts of the genome that are responsible for different kinds of cancers.

via PLoS Genetics