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To Build the Database

In an opinion piece at the Guardian, Adam Rutherford wonders whether people who give up their genetic data to learn their ancestry and other traits realize that they are themselves the product.

Rutherford adds that companies like 23andMe — which recently entered into a drug target discovery deal with GSK, as GenomeWeb has reported — have been open about their goals to develop genetic databases. He points out that a 23andMe board member said about five years ago that such a large database can be mined to develop new drugs that can then be sold back to consumers. Rutherford notes that 23andMe gives customers the option of not participating in third party research, but most do.

Rutherford also notes that recent uses of genealogy databases by law enforcement — such as in the Golden State Killer case — have raised privacy concerns and security issues about genetic data that has been collected.

"In short: if you really want to spend your cash to discover that you are descended from Vikings (spoiler: if you have European ancestry, you are) or you have blue eyes (try a mirror), go ahead," he adds. "But be aware of what you are really giving up, and consider the potential risks if things go wrong."