Computational Bioethics

Personal Genomes Ripe For Social Networking


Personal genomics offers the promise of raising quality of life to unexpected levels. Understanding one’s genome and its effects become paramount for achieving this promise. Recreational Genomics has arisen as a field of commercial activity allowing mass scale genome screening. For several hundred dollars it is possible to have one’s genome analyzed and results easily downloaded as a flat text file. In the case of 23andMe, this analysis consists of personal variants (genotype) for more than 0.5M SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). This personal “genome” is interesting in its own right and it would be even more interesting provided that this information is compared and analyzed in the context of other people’s genomes and their phenotypes.

A resource available for social networking to allow mass comparison of people sharing traits and genomic variants, I believe could have revolutionary effects. Such a network could allow one start making sense of specific personal traits, susceptibility to illnesses and determination of potential treatments proven successful by genetically similar people. Exchange of genetic information made easy should be a reality soon.

The time is ripe for social genome networks. Indeed there are lots of potential ethical and legal challenges ahead. How long are laws and social prejudices going to stop the inevitable?

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5 replies »

  1. Once I attended a seminar from a guy who bought a 23andMe kit, and he said that inside their website they already have a kind of social network, where you can contact people with your haplogroup or with similar genetic code. Moreover, they offer the opportunity to participate to anonymous surveys, for example you can say which is the color of your hair, your character, etc… and they try to correlate with with your genome.

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    • @Gioby: yes, it is true that this kind of social network exists in 23andMe, as I am a customer myself and I have tried to make use of it. However, this is not an open social network and it seems that most of the messages are automatically generated.

      It is still to be seen whether 23andMe as a social network it is going to succeed. Some of the crucial ingredients that made Facebook a success are still missing in 23andMe: a) extensive ability to share one’s information b) open access and c) critical mass.

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  2. Lots of people give very personal information on their life (on Facebook, for e.g.) so I bet many wouldn’t mind give information about their genomes. To some extend, I’d rather make public information about my genome rather than about my personal life.

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  3. As long as your profile details are available to whoever you choose to give them, I do not see a problem with it.

    You could also make accessible your genome data in an anonymized way so that people would see your genotype but not who submitted it or belongs to.

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  4. Interesting given your other post on privacy – many people would consider their genome to be about as private as it gets.

    I like the idea of a “GenomeBook” though – as a research resource it could be very valuable.

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