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Biomedicine in museums

23andMe and converging technologies

The recently announced marriage between Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki is not just an innocent piece of celebrity news (the circumstances of the Bahamas beach wedding last week are perfectly romantic though :-). It also signifies one of the basic tendencies in contemporary technoscience, viz. the web-based convergence between postgenomics and information technology.

Sergey Brin doesn’t need much of an introduction. But Anne Wojcicki, a molecular biologist, has been less known until recently. Last autumn, however, she founded 23andMe, a biotech-oriented start-up webcompany. The goal of

is “to take advantage of new genotyping technologies and help consumers explore their genetics, informed by cutting edge science”:

Combining computer science, biology and informatics, we are at the cutting edge of a new era of genetics. Genome deciphering technologies have reached affordable levels, allowing consumer access. This information has the potential to empower both individuals and society in a way that will deliver tremendous value. For the individual, such information will provide personal insight into ancestry, genealogy and health. For society, the collection of genotypic and phenotypic information on a large scale will provide scientists with novel avenues for research.

They are right now hiring like crazy: geneticists, software engineers, user interface developers and designers, a director of their phenotype collection, a science writer, etc.

There has not been much news about the company yet (see Blaine Bettinger’s blog The Genetic Geneaologist and Attila Csordas’ Pimm), but my guess is that we will hear more about it in the near future. Whatever its future prospects, however, it’s already a good example of how converging technologies (see here for earlier posts about this phenomenon) are emerging at the start-up company level.

The consequences of such converging technologies for future biosociety and biocitizenship are fascinating. 7-8 years ago nobody could foresee that Google would establish a near monopoly on web searches. Will 23andMe be able to recapitulate for the sphere of genetic information what Google has done for websites and books? DeCODE genetics and similar companies are probably for sale at the right price.

The marriage between Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki is thus not just a romantic Silicon Valley story; it’s also today’s counterpart to traditional politically motivated marital alliances and gives a new meaning to the concept of converging technologies.

(For a discussion — in Swedish — of why the company is called 23andMe, see these comments on Erik Stattin’s Mymarkup.)

Note added 22 May: Reuters reports that Google has invested $3.9 million in 23andMe.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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