Magazine article The New Yorker

Ptooey!

Magazine article The New Yorker

Ptooey!

Article excerpt

Certain innovations--cell phones, the umbrella--started out as symbols of wealth before trickling down to the masses. Getting to know your genotype may be next on the list. In 2006, Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki founded a company called 23andMe (that's chromosome pairs), which gives its customers the chance to decode their genes. For four hundred dollars, you spit into a vial and mail it to a lab, where the DNA is extracted and put on a chip that can analyze about six hundred thousand sections of your genome. A few weeks later, you sign in online and get the biotech equivalent of a psychic reading.

"We thought, Let's do something radical," Wojcicki said last Tuesday, in the lobby of the IAC Building, where the company was about to throw a Spit Party, hosted by Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, Harvey Weinstein, and their genetically gifted wives. The concept, she said, has major implications for the field of personalized medicine. "It's very useful if you know that you're at increased risk for deep-vein thrombosis and you're on a plane," she continued. "You might want to stay vigilant about moving around." Instead of finding out the hard way that their children are allergic to peanuts, parents may someday be able to test their DNA. Even small inherited traits, Avey added, can serve as health clues: "There is some correlation between your ability to metabolize caffeine and your risk for a heart attack."

Of course, the news isn't all dire. "There's a gene called [alpha]-actinin-3, and a version of it is found in people who excel at sprinting," Avey said, adding that she doesn't have [alpha]-actinin-3 but Wojcicki does. Recently, the company has begun surveying its customers about their hereditary quirks (freckles, sneezing when exposed to the sun, the ability to smell asparagus in one's urine) and plotting them against genetic data. There are also genealogical revelations. "My dad is Polish Catholic, but he has a Y chromosome that is very common in Jewish populations," Wojcicki said. And there are two types of earwax--wet and dry--the latter of which is prevalent among Asians. Avey's father-in-law, who is of northern European heritage, has it, too. "Was it a Genghis Khan thing? I don't know," she said.

Avey and Wojcicki were joined by Wendi Murdoch, Rupert's wife, who had already taken her DNA test. …

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