Genes and Us is a newly launched genetics analysis app which combines a couple’s genomes to show them the best and worst disease-related traits that they’ll pass on to their children.
Using the 23andMe API, Genes and Us access around 130 genes, or about 0.01% of a user’s 23andMe results. The reason for this low percentage, according to co-founder, Rob Hunter, is because they are the SNPs that 23andMe has classified with “high confidence” meaning the prediction accuracy is high.
Users are required to have a 23andMe account – and thus have used the 23andMe service – to analyaze their data. Once logged you’re met with a number of options including to look at your collective best genes and disease risks.
Obviously not everyone who has used 23andMe has a partner that has used the service also (I haven’t) but Genes and Us creates a sample genome for demonstration purposes.
In the Best Genes section you’re met with three options.
- Best Genes are the best and worst genes that you may pass on to your child.
- Guaranteed Genes is a list of genes that you will almost certainly pass on to your child. These are genes where both you and your partner are homogenous – you each have two copies of the same allele (two of the same letters next to Mom and Dad).
- Best Genes to Select is a list of the genes that, if selected for, would give the greatest benefit to your child.
Dating your perfect genetic partner
I asked co-founder Rob if he envisaged a time when dating sites will allow people to match their genotypes when looking for a partner and while the world may not be ready for such a service yet it’s something he has explored before in the past. Not from a point of view of matching good genes together but rather eliminating people carrying the same bad gene from seeing each other in the dating site’s search results.
Genes and Us was built for an entirely different reason Rob states; “This service was to prevent the following situation: you’re ready to have a child, and you find that both you and your partner are carriers for something bad (think cystic fibrosis). The way you deal with this is a kind of in vitro fertilization called preimplantation genetic screening – at a fertility clinic, several embryos are created and genotyped, and the ones with the trait that you want (not cystic fibrosis) are made available for implantation. The service costs about $20k (including implantation).”
Scary but inevitable
When I ran the idea of Genes and Us past a few friends their reaction of being a little freaked out was predicted. New and different services like this always will freak people out initially.
Shopping online was met with caution in the early days of the internet because people feared having their credit card details stolen. Online dating was initially considered to be only for people who couldn’t find anyone in the “real world” which is quite different to how it’s perceived now. In the early part of the 21st century people had a hard time coming to terms with the openness and transparency of social media.
As personal genotyping becomes even cheaper and as genomic research continues to find connections between our DNA and health this type of service will become mainstream and inevitably less scary to the populous.
While some people would prefer not to, others may want to know if they could pass on a life-threatening disease to their child. I for one would.