Researchers from the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe have demonstrated that genetic data can reliably be combined with self-reported survey data to pinpoint genetic associations for common traits such as hair curliness and facial freckling.
A team that included 23andMe cofounders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki gave Web-based questionnaires to nearly 10,000 participants who had undergone the company’s genome-wide spit kit test. Reporting yesterday in the journal PLoS Genetics, the researchers confirmed the approach’s utility by replicating several previously known associations for hair color, eye color and freckling. They also discovered novel associations for more unusual characteristics, including the tendency to sneeze after seeing bright light and the ability to smell urinary breakdown products after eating asparagus.
“Our analysis not only identified new genetic associations, but also showed that our novel way of doing research — collecting self-reported data over the Web from involved participants who also receive interpretations of their genetic data — is a viable alternative to traditional methods,” the authors wrote.
This study is probably only the tip of the iceberg. According to 23andMe’s website, the company has collected research surveys from 29,000 of its customers, enabling more than 650 genome-wide associations to be tested in parallel.
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