23andMe's 23andWe team has published a paper in PLoS Genetics on their "Web-based" and "participant-driven" research approach. In it, they report that they "found novel associations for hair curl, freckling, photic sneeze reflex, and the ability to smell the urinary metabolites of asparagus" as well as replicated previous findings. "In this paper we confirm that self-reported data from our customers has the potential to yield data of comparable quality as data gathered using traditional research methods," says Anne Wojcicki, the president and co-founder of 23andMe, in a statement. At the Life and Times of Lily Mendel blog, co-founder Linda Avey adds that this is a "potential sea change" as it breaks down the "firewall" between scientists and research participants.
Genetic Future's Daniel MacArthur, who is a 23andMe customer, says that "while it's easy to scoff at the traits assessed in this paper, the company is beginning to assemble a research base with growing power" and that "the power and flexibility of this approach would be the envy of many an academic researcher."
MacArthur also points out that the paper was submitted to PLoS Genetics about a year ago. The publication hold-up was due to the journal editors seeking insight on "ethical review, consent, and data access," according to an editorial also appearing in PLoS Genetics. "The editors of PLoS Genetics decided to proceed after satisfying ourselves on two major points, namely that the participants were not coerced to participate in the study in any way, and they were clearly aware that their samples would be used for genetic research," write Greg Gibson and Gregory Copenhaver in the editorial.