Our Research Team utilizes a wide range of expertise to conduct innovative research at an unprecedented scale and level of complexity. Each of the groups below plays an essential role in supporting our mission of making new genetic discoveries possible.

Genomics R&D

Made up of computational biologists, statistical geneticists, and bioinformaticians, this group is responsible for maintaining and improving our core methods for making genetic discoveries. These methods are the basis for all scientific efforts across the company, from supporting new features in our product to identifying drug target candidates for our Therapeutics division. Our statistical expertise, combined with what is one of the largest genomic datasets in the world, has made 23andMe a leader in studying human traits and diseases.
Using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) with sample sizes that can exceed one million participants, we have identified genetic associations with Parkinson’s, spontaneous preterm birth, susceptibility for common infections, and schizophrenia — just to name a few. By computing associations across a large number of traits, we have contributed to one of the largest phenome-wide association studies (PheWAS) to date, which investigated phenotypes associated with variants in the autoimmune TH17 pathway.
We continue to innovate genomics research and apply novel methods to our mega-cohort. We are developing better methods for detecting shared identity-by-descent (IBD) segments and IBD association mapping. We are building trait prediction models that leverage correlations in phenotypic data, and we are applying machine learning methods to impute markers in complex regions of the genome. Our team is investigating the action of negative selection within linkage disequilibrium-dependent architecture, and developing methods for identifying pairs of traits that show evidence of a causal relationship. To aid our fine-mapping efforts, we combine our database with public or internally generated high-throughput genomic or functional data. We also perform whole-genome sequencing in populations of interest, such as Ashkenazi Jews and African-Americans, to further diversity in genomics research. Finally, we work behind the scenes to convert answers to survey questions into phenotypes and develop phasing methods and imputation panels.

Ancestry R&D

Our Ancestry R&D Team develops algorithms and reference datasets that support all aspects of our Ancestry Service, including our Ancestry Composition and DNA Relatives features. Our population geneticists developed a pioneering local ancestry inference algorithm known as Ancestry Painting, and a decade later, more recent versions of this algorithm continue to distinguish our Ancestry Service from those of our competitors. We also created DNA Relatives (formerly known as Relative Finder), the first algorithm for identifying relatives within a large genetic database.
Additionally, our team oversees the curation of the 23andMe Ancestry Reference Panel, the set of data used to infer each customers’ ancestral origins. This panel combines publicly available data, such as that from the 1000 Genomes Project and Human Genome Diversity Project, with internally generated datasets. We are always looking to expand this reference panel and have a number of initiatives that aim to improve our ability to characterize global patterns of human genetic diversity, such as our past African American Sequencing Project, current Global Genetics Project, and ongoing Populations Collaborations Program.

Health R&D

How can we leverage our unique dataset to revolutionize health and wellness? Our Health R&D Team is always on the lookout for new ways to develop data-driven health products that improve the wellbeing of our customers. Our Genetic Weight report, launched in 2017, was the first Wellness report based on data from 23andMe research participants rather than published literature. Since then we have continued to utilize the latest machine learning algorithms to produce robust risk prediction models, that combine genetics with lifestyle and environment to predict important health outcomes. We work closely with our Product Science team to figure out how to implement these algorithms in our product.
Our team also explores new ways to help customers take action, which includes performing scalable research to determine what those actions should be. Our pilot Sleep Intervention Study illustrated that our research participants were willing to make and track lifestyle changes, and our current Weight Loss Intervention Study includes even larger numbers of people participating in research into the genetics of weight loss. In the future we hope to integrate the growing wealth of biometric data (e.g., steps, heart rate), electronic medical records, and other information in order to provide personally tailored insights into achieving a healthy lifestyle.

Data Collection

Genetic discoveries are not possible without phenotypic data. Our one billion data points, gathered through self-report surveys, cover a wide range of topics, from wellness and behavior, to diseases or chronic conditions. The topics of these questionnaires cover conditions that are both serious, such as cancer, and not so serious, like acne. We also ask about common conditions like heart disease, as well as rare ones like ALS. Our Data Collection Team utilizes a breadth of essential expertise — including public health, epidemiology, biostatistics, social sciences, and psychology — to ensure the quality of our phenotypic data and to support scientific endeavors across the Research Team.
We are always searching for innovative ways to collect data from our more than three million research participants, such as cognitive assessment evaluations that measure empathy, risk taking, and memory. In 2017 we deployed the first ever online cold pressor test, a laboratory pain sensitivity measure that can be done at home with nothing more than a bucket of ice water and a watch. Furthermore, with over 100 million data points specifically collected about serious illnesses, 23andMe is uniquely able to develop reports about disease risk and work toward discovering new medicines in our Therapeutics division.

Research Ethics & Policy

Respecting our research participants is our highest priority. Our Research Ethics and Policy Team addresses a range of issues connected to our ground-breaking research program, including informed consent, recruitment, privacy, and data sharing and management. Over 80% of our customers provide consent to participate in research, and we evaluate new forms of research recruitment based on genetic and phenotype data, focusing on proper handling of potentially sensitive data and ensuring that research participation minimizes harm and maximizes potential benefits. We also enact policies around data handling and sharing that are designed to maximize the impact of our massive research database while ensuring the privacy of our research participants.
Our Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) work is relevant to the research ethics and genomics communities: We have contributed to the national discussion of management of genomics data and will continue to share our findings and perspectives. Our Research Ethics and Policy Team also ensures that our research complies with the laws and regulations of each country where research is conducted, including the Common Rule in the United States and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. In the US, our research protocols are reviewed by Ethical and Independent Review Services, an independent external AAHRPP-accredited Institutional Review Board (IRB). Our regulatory scientists maintain Certified IRB Professional credentials and have previous experience working on or liaising with IRBs.

Project Management & Operations

At 23andMe, we are redefining the field of human genetics by conducting research studies at an unprecedented scale and level of complexity. We are always dreaming up new ways to innovate, such as enabling people to participate in studies from the convenience of their phones, asking research participants to self-administer a well-established pain endurance test, and recruiting tens of thousands of research participants at breakneck speeds. These projects involve teams from across 23andMe and sometimes involve academic collaborators, industry partners, and non-profit and government funding agencies.
How do we ensure that these massive and complex studies run smoothly for 23andMe research participants and create meaningful discoveries? At the core of every study are research project managers and research assistants working behind the scenes. The project managers serve as the primary point of contact for study stakeholders, guiding these complex studies through to execution. The research assistants work directly with 23andMe research participants, answering their questions and addressing concerns about study participation. Our team also makes sure that 23andMe published research is made available for broader scientific advancement by overseeing review and striving to make papers available open access. Check out our Projects page to explore the diverse range of collaborations facilitated by our team, and our How to Collaborate page to learn more about how you can work with us.