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Seeking Expanded Genomic App List, 23andMe Releases Third-Party Developer API


Seeking to expand the range of applications available to research scientists and customers using its data, 23andMe this week released an application programming interface that will allow authorized third-party developers to build a broad range of apps for the web and mobile devices.

Mike Polcari, director of engineering at 23andMe, told BioInform that the Personal Genome API allows the company to benefit from the expertise of the broader developer community and could also lead to increased demand for its personal genome service.

“Anyone that is using the API is a customer for us [and] if some of these apps are really engaging, it might drive people to go get genotyped just to use the app,” he said. Furthermore, “we also think its something that our [current] customers want.”

The launch of the API kicks off an early-access program, for which 23andMe has begun accepting applications, that will give the company a chance to “listen to the developer community and build out the functionality they need over the next few weeks,” he said.

23andMe doesn’t have a specific close date for the early-access phase of its API, Polcari said. “We're just trying to set the expectation that we're working with the early adopters to enhance the API,” he explained in an email.

Interested academics, companies, and individual developers can apply to participate in the early-access effort by filling out an online application and providing information about what sort of app they’d like to develop or are currently developing and what user information they require. This is to ensure that developers signing up for the API are “real and identifiable” and that they “are being thoughtful about which pieces of the genome they are accessing,” Polcari said.

Furthermore, third-party applications will be allowed to “operate” on customers’ genomic information only after those customers have consented to such access, he said.

Once a developer’s application is approved, 23andMe will send over a client key that can be used to gain access to the services and functionality provided by the API. More details about access and use of the company’s data are provided in its API terms of service agreement.

23andMe discussed its third-party application development plans last week at the Quantified Self Conference in Palo Alto, Calif., where participants expressed “a lot of enthusiasm” about the API, Polcari said.

It’s an opportunity for developers to make their “standalone applications or personal tracking devices … richer” by incorporating the genetic information that 23andMe provides, he told BioInform.

Some programs that might fit into this category include apps that would incorporate an individual’s DNA into his or her family tree; apps for running candidate gene studies using data from CureTogether — a community-based health site that 23andMe acquired this summer; and a sleep tracking app that would import SNPs associated with caffeine metabolism and circadian rhythms, Polcari explained.

Its also opens the door for the development of “brand new genetics-oriented apps that were not possible before without the time and expense of setting up a lab pipeline,” he said. This could include apps for Neanderthal ancestry analysis — like one developed at 23andMe that estimates the percentage of person’s genome that is from a Neanderthal — or an app that generates portraits of DNA like those created by DNA 11, he said.

Other potential applications might enable researchers to perform linkage studies or genome-wide association studies using 23andMe data, Polcari said.

23andMe isn’t charging a fee for developers to access and use the API and it also expects that users will be able to download and use the apps for free, although developers can put a price tag on their apps if they want to, Polcari said.