2017: The Year Personal Genomics Reached The Forefront Of Health
DNA-based information on ancestry has caught people's fancy and have been making rounds through the decade
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What started as obscure experiments conducted by a bright young Austrian monk in the 19th century has now catapulted into the multi-million dollar genomics industry. As the former Secretary of State of the United States of America Alex Ross said, the last trillion dollar company was built on computer codes, the next will be built on the genetic code.
While there is a lot of talk about core genomic discoveries- people just wouldn't stop gushing about CRISPR/Cas9- there are parallel applications of DNA information that is already a huge market segment overseas. DNA-based information on ancestry has caught people's fancy and have been making rounds through the decade. The genetic foundation of these reports gives the customers the trust factor that one looks for in any reports. The novel genetic application that uses a computational framework to simulate model population patterns purely based on genetic markers have shattered the illusion of international boundaries. Worldwide there are people who are discovering their roots thousands of miles away from their present spot. Companies also offer family finder tools as an offset, uniting estranged and lost families all around the world.
The reports are generated from saliva samples collected from at-home self-help DNA kits that are shipped directly to the user after an order is placed online. This complete abstinence from making customers go through painful needle pricks and to have to physically displace to laboratories for sample collection have added to the popularity of this line of products. Moreover it is universal. You don't need to fall sick sign up for it. The cost of these tests range typically between $99 (23andme) to $150 (Genos 2.0 from National Geographic). In addition to ancestry information users are also able to download their raw genetic information which they can upload to third party tools for as low as $5-$10 and receive insights and tips on nutrition, fitness, health, allergies, skin among others. Xcode Life has recently launched the ancestry genetic reports exclusively for the benefit of the South Asian population, a group that is underrepresented in companies with a largely western customer base. The popularity of this test can be vouched for- Ancestry DNA sold 1.5 million DNA kits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the 23andme ancestry DNA kit was listed as #3 on the Amazon bestselling list. UK- based, The Guardian reported in May this year that the ancestry genetics market is projected to reach 340 million USD in 2022.
The ancestry DNA reports, already viral in the west have not yet scratched the surface in the Indian subcontinent. This can be partly attributed to the lack of smooth access to genetic facilities and partly to the fact that already popular ancestry genetic service providers do not have sufficient representative data for the South Asian population as a whole. As a result we have a 2 billion people, nearly 40% of the world population, who are denied of information about their heritage. Here we have a catch-22 situation. The more the number of people who sign up for these services the more detailed are the reports. Yet people would not want their reports unless they are detailed. Being a relatively new concept, and having seen the response of the public, things a definitely looking up for all the South Asians looking for their roots. What else can ancestry information do for us?
Ancestry DNA, the largest genealogy company in the world puts to use genomic tools to study the patterns of human population and migration history, conducted a 7, 00,000 subject research that was published in Nature Communication that unravelled the population structure in North America based only on the DNA sequence. Groups of people within the same population who superficially seem to have the same ancestry were revealed to have major differences in their geographical origins and segregated as genetic communities.
Racism is old news. If only Martin Luther King had the results of the study published in Science this year by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania that the gene variations influencing lighter skin tone originated in Africa. According to a news release by the National Institute of Health (NIH) colour meter readings were taken from 2,092 African participants from their inner arm. The results of this study has opened avenues for research on skin diseases and cancer. Genes like DDB1, involved in the DNA repair pathway and SLC24A5 that is associated with albinism have emerged as the primary factors in this study. Backward notions of associating skin color to specific ethnicities couldn't be any less irrelevant.
Every feature in the human body has a possible adaptation story behind it. The differences that we see in the way people of different ethnicities "look" are due to the biological adaptations of the human body to the environment. DNA ancestry has the capacity to connect all humans to our shared past, while shedding light on our relative diversity. With ancestry testing, what people realize is that we are not the same but we are 99.9% similar no matter where we live, how we look or what we follow. Genetics can be a great global unifying force.
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