06 May 2012

Is Ancestry moving into DNA and health?

The announcement last week that Ancestry.com now has a DNA test available to existing subscribers, marketed under the name AncestryDNA, is no surprise. The company discussed plans at RootsTech as part of their Saturday morning plenary and has been piloting the system with select clients in the US. Some have posted about their experience.

Most were pleased with the information given, but disappointed that the company does not return the raw data. That's something FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe both do. The information can be used for further analysis, only likely something likely to be tackled by the expert.

The AncestryDNA website indicates "demand is sky-high, but we'll be sure to let you know when we have a test for you" so you add yourself to a waiting list."  The advertised price is $99.

A couple of items in Ancestry's press release on Thursday were surprises.

The first was the acquisition of data from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.

"In March, Ancestry.com DNA, LLC acquired access to an extensive collection of DNA assets from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization. Founded by molecular genealogy pioneer, James LeVoy Sorenson, this organization has been dedicated to building the world's foremost collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. Over the last 12 years, the Sorenson Foundation collected a one-of-a-kind DNA database of tens of thousands of DNA samples with documented family histories in more than 100 countries on six continents. This DNA database gives AncestryDNA test-takers an expanded family history genetic resource, and should enable new levels of discovery about people's family backgrounds."
Many people donated a DNA sample and gave genealogical information to SMGF on the understanding that it was a non-profit. They received no direct benefit for donating their DNA and information. Now SMGF is selling that information to Ancestry, a for profit corporation, without any further approval from the donor. That may be legal. Is it ethical?

The second surprise was the announcement of a Scientific Advisory Board "that can advise the company on best practices in the emerging field of DNA and genomic testing. The board consists of:
-- Carlos D. Bustamante, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Genetics at
Stanford University School of Medicine
-- Mark J. Daly, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine Harvard Medical
School Center for Human Genetics
-- John Novembre, Ph.D., Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles
-- Jeffrey R. Botkin, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Pediatrics and Medical
Ethics, Associate Vice President for Research, University of Utah
-- Philip Awadalla, Ph.D., Director of the CARTaGENE BioBank, Saint Justine Hospital, Montreal, Canada"
Notice the affiliations .. medicine, medical, hospital. It makes you wonder whether Ancestry is planning a move into the health side of DNA testing, a field dominated by 23andMe at present.

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