- Hollis Johnson
- Genetics testing company 23andMe made headlines last week when it announced it would share consumers’ anonymized genetic data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
- Companies like 23andMe frequently share customer DNA data with other institutions, also known as “third parties.”
- Ancestry, another popular company like 23andMe, had a partnership with Google’s stealthy life extension spinoff Calico to study the genetics of longevity. That partnership has now ended.
As is often the case in the world of scientific research partnerships, almost as quickly as a new deal begins, another ends.
Popular spit-in-a-tube genetics-testing company 23andMe made a splash last week when it announced a plan to share the anonymized genetic data of millions of consumers with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to help the company develop new drugs.
Ancestry, which maintains a database of genetic information built on the spit samples of more than 5 million consumers, had been partnering with Google’s stealthy life extension spinoff Calico to study aging and longevity. The agreement, which was finalized almost exactly three years ago, recently ended, an Ancestry spokesperson told Business Insider.
Apart from a 2015 press release announcing the agreement, neither company has said much about what the research partnership did.
Genetic testing companies frequently share customer DNA data with other institutions. These can include public research groups like state universities or private drug makers like GSK.
Looking at genetic data for clues to a long life
Calico was ostensibly interested in sorting through Ancestry’s treasure trove of genetic data to identify commonalities among people who live a long time. Data on individuals who live longer-than-expected lives compared to their shorter-lived family members might be especially useful. This could reveal common genetic traits among those longer-lived folks that might play a role in helping them outlast their peers.
“The Calico science team decided, what if we used a data set like what Ancestry.com has to identify people who have a longer-than-expected lifespan in their family?” Ken Chahine, the senior vice president and general manager of Ancestry, told Business Insider back in 2015.
Since then, neither company has published any research from the collaboration, but that doesn’t mean none was produced, someone familiar with Calico’s work told Business Insider.
“Ancestry previously had a relationship with Calico which focused on understanding human longevity and developing ways that all of us can lead longer and healthier lives,” an Ancestry spokesperson told Business Insider, adding, “This relationship has now ended.”
According to Calico, some of the results of its research with Ancestry will be published in a peer-reviewed journal soon.
Ancestry can share your anonymized genetic data with third parties like Calico if you opt-in to what the company calls an “informed consent to research.” This option comes up after you submit your spit sample during the online registration process. (If you decline the opt-in, your data will not be shared with third parties, the company says.)
Those third party groups can include for-profit private companies like Calico as well as nonprofit research groups like the University of Utah and the American Society of Human Genetics – both of which still have active partnerships with Ancestry.
How to delete your DNA data
If you choose to share your genetic data with a company like Ancestry or 23andMe, it can be a difficult decision to undo. Once you opt-in, the company will not wipe your genetic information from any “active or completed research projects,” according to its latest privacy statement.
However, if you’d like to stop your DNA data from being used for new research, you can.
Use the navigation bar at the top of the homepage to select “DNA.” On the page with your name at the top, scroll to the upper right corner, select “settings,” then go to “delete test results” on the column on the right side. Doing this will result in Ancestry deleting the following within 30 days: “All genetic information, including any derivative genetic information (ethnicity estimates, genetic relative matches, etc.) from our production, development, analytics, and research systems.”
If you want to take the additional step of having the company discard your physical spit sample, you must call member services.