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23andMe offer free gene tests to 10,000 African-Americans

1 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 618
Personal genomics company 23andMe is launching an initiative aiming to shift the balance of participation in both personal genomics and genetic research towards African-Americans.

Outlined at the National Urban League Conference in Boston, the Roots into the Future initiative is campaigning to offer free genetic testing kits to 10,000 African-Americans. Participants will also have full access to their personal genetic data as well as their health and ancestry interpretations.

'This research initiative presents a tremendous opportunity for African-Americans to learn essential information about themselves, their families, and their ancestry', said 23andMe advisor, Professor Henry Gates Jr from Harvard University.

Recent findings that 96 percent of participants in genomic studies were of European ancestry have highlighted how much genetic research is lagging behind for African-Americans.

A breakdown of 23andMe's customers' ethnicity revealed that of the 81,500 clients on the company's database, almost three quarters originated from Europe. African-Americans made up just over one percent, despite accounting for around 13 percent of the US population.

This under-representation has repercussions for both general research and the African-American community. It is hoped the project will not only increase the understanding of this population's genetics, ancestry and health issues, but also educate those who are not familiar with personal genomics.

Roots into the Future also aims to help determine how genetic factors contribute to the development of disease in this population; for example are there genetic markers of particular relevance to the African-American community, or will there be similar genetic associations as there are in Europeans?

In order to participate in the programme, individuals must be of African descent, over 18 years old, have access to the Internet, and be willing to complete online surveys about their health.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
10,000 African Americans to get free 23andMe gene tests
San Jose Business Journal |  28 July 2011
Personal genomics: no longer just for white folks
Wired blogs |  26 July 2011
Roots into the future
23andMe |  28 July 2011
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