The Genetic Link

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Article by: Brian Smith

23andMe - 10 years and over 2 million DNA saliva samples collected with Oragene


Ten years ago, DNA Genotek had a vision and a unique product that we thought had the potential to change the world of genomics by allowing easy self-collection of DNA from saliva. After our first few years in business, we were gaining customer accolades in the genetic research community for our Oragene collection kit and we were excited for what was to come.

When I look back on those early years, one of the highlights was a call we received in 2006 from a start-up company in California. They asked how our Oragene kits could help them collect DNA samples from customers across the United States. They would be the first to offer customers a virtual genetic service and collect DNA samples via the mail. In addition to in-home collection, the samples would be returned by mail, with the sample being tracked along the entire process.

That call came from 23andMe, a company that by now you are no doubt familiar with. Ten years and more than two million saliva samples later, there’s a lot to be learned from their experience.

There is tremendous potential for making novel research discoveries in a large crowd-sourced community,” noted 23andMe co-founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki last year.

She added that the company’s research model has already yielded results.

The 23andMe research team and our collaborators have made discoveries in Parkinson’s, skin cancer, migraine, and many other areas of human health, publishing more than 50 papers — the majority in open access journals,” she wrote in a company blog post last year. “We consider our consented customers, research partners and not “human subjects” — on average each contribute to more than 200 studies and are key in helping us make new discoveries.

Few companies have collected and analyzed as many saliva DNA samples as 23andMe. We recently asked 23andMe a few questions and wanted to share their insights with you.

Q&A with 23andMe

What prompted 23andMe to start a personal genetics company back in 2006 and how has your mission evolved?

23andMe: Our mission has always been to provide people with the opportunity to access, understand and benefit from the human genome. Part of that mission is to accelerate genetic research to better understand human biology. Our unique research model puts engaged customers at the center of scientific research. By combining genetic information with survey data, we’re able to make significant genetic discoveries more quickly than traditional research.

There’s much left to discover from the human genome, but we’re starting to chip away and find answers to some of its greatest mysteries.

From the beginning you chose to use DNA saliva samples. Why was saliva the right choice for you?

23andMe: Saliva is the simplest and least invasive means of collection for at-home use, while yielding enough DNA for our tests. Since we launched our Personal Genome Service in 2007, 23andMe has worked exclusively with DNA Genotek who provides us with a complete self collection solution including the FDA cleared Oragene saliva collection kit and a customized box for mailing the kit to our customers and returning the sample to our lab.

23andMe has collected and analyzed over a million DNA saliva samples. How do you keep track of the samples? How are they tracked through your lab workflow?

23andMe: The 23andMe service process is fairly simple: order, register, spit, review your data. However, between putting your sample in the mail and us alerting you that your data is ready, a lot happens at our laboratory. All saliva samples are processed upon arrival in one of our two CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited labs. For details about the steps taking place at our lab, watch this short video: What happens to my sample at the laboratory?

23andMe has been in business for just over a decade. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in that decade?

23andMe: We’ve definitely seen a shift in the consumer’s openness and interest in understanding more about how their genetics can impact their health. We expect this shift to continue as time goes on as the field of genomics becomes more mainstream, given the immense amount of information it can provide about who you are and where you’re from.

From 23andMe’s perspective, what is the future for personalized genetics … at home and in the clinic?

23andMe: We’re very excited about the future of personalized medicine and the promise genomics holds for delivering targeted, more effective therapies. We will continue to work with the FDA to bring more health reports to our customers, while continuing to pursue novel research to leading to new discoveries. As we learn more about the human genome, we'll continue to share that knowledge with our customers in a way they can understand and that empowers them to make important decisions that affect their health and wellness.

I applaud 23andMe for their success in the past 10 years. The rate of discovery is escalating more than ever and our customers are each playing important roles in this process of discovery. 23andMe, we thank you for making DNA Genotek an integral part of this evolution.

For more information on how DNA Genotek can help you with your research or for customized packaging, single order fulfillment or laboratory services, contact us at 

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