Last year, at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in Hawaii, Nick Eriksson gave a talk on 23andWe, the scientific arm of 23andMe. He reported a series of genetic association studies that used their customer base as a pool of active participants, by asking them to fill out questionnaires, and correlating their answers with their genotypes. They reported a few novel genes that were associated with semi-amusing/semi-serious traits, including a variant associated with curly hair, and the olfactory receptor variant that predicts whether or not you can smell asparagus in your own urine; these associations have since been published in PLoS Genetics.
This is all very interesting, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here. What I do want to talk about is the effect that knowledge of these results can have on the users of personal genomics, and how this could feed back into genetics research. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this.