23andMe DNA Analytics Improve and Change Over Time: Getting the Latest and Most Accurate Means Paying for the Upgrade
Genetic diagnostics are becoming popular thanks to companies like 23andMe or MyHeritage. For about 100 dollars they allow you to know your ancestry, possible hereditary diseases and other information by analyzing the DNA of your saliva, you can even send it by package from home.All this they do with the tools they have at the time of the analysis, because over time their precision improves, but for the client to obtain the most accurate diagnosis, they must pay as if it were an update to an app.
Research by companies like 23andMe or the scientific community is continuous, therefore, over time new relationships are discovered between DNA and different body behaviors, as well as diseases. These relationships are "written" in some way in DNA, but until they are discovered it is impossible to establish the relationship between a DNA strand and a particular disease, for example. Consequently, a 23andMe genetic diagnosis from a year ago may be incomplete or directly wrong. But clients will hardly know this without paying for the "update" of their DNA analysis.
A matter of chips
23andMe, FamilyTreeDNa or MyHeritage among other companies that sell genetic diagnoses directly to the consumer use a method called 'genotyping' to create their diagnoses. Instead of sequencing the more than six million DNA base pairs, they take only specific parts that they know offer some of the information they seek. This way you only have to sequence a few hundred thousand pairs. To analyze the determined areas a specific chip is used, so if you want to analyze other areas of the DNA because relevant information has been discovered, the chip must be changed. In other words, the more recent your DNA test is, the more accurate and greater the information you get.
Chips used by 23andMe and other similar companies for genotyping.
The chips that are actually used are not even manufactured by the companies themselves, but are bought in bulk from companies dedicated to manufacturing these types of matrices. Each point on the chip registers a part of the DNA, so the more complex the chip is, the more capabilities it will have to sequence the DNA in a higher percentage. It's actually like a computer processor, the more technology advances, the more complex it is and the more it can do. But you have to pay to get the latest computer processor.
23andMe updated for example its chip in 2017. The new chip is capable of offering more detailed information on possible diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or breast cancer, for example. But of course, customers who bought the DNA test prior to the new chip cannot know about this new diagnosis even though they have already paid for it and 23andMe has their DNA.
$ 125 extra if you want more accurate health information
As WIRED indicates, many customers have complained about this 23andMe policy and have asked the company for some way to update their genetic diagnosis, even misleading advertising lawsuits have been filed with authorities. 23andMe's solution is to offer a paid "upgrade" for users who were tested with the chips in version 1, 2 and 3 (currently go for version 5 of the chip).
To better understand the ancestry, the client will have to pay $ 69 again, to better understand the health report with possible hereditary diseases, you have to pay an extra $ 125. The company indicates that the update should not affect the accuracy or validity of reports generated on previous chip versions. There is a but and it is that "in rare cases the results may change".
Changing the chip is not only an extra cost for customers, it also poses obstacles for companies that buy 23andMe or similar genetic databases (the sixth largest pharmaceutical company in the world last year for example). They generally buy the data from different bases to cross it and get relevant information, but if the new chips sequence parts that had not been sequenced before ... you can't collect all the purchased data anymore, you have to start again. Basically, the new advances make the previously obtained studies obsolete.
Direct-to-consumer genetic diagnosis seems to follow the same trend as the rest of consumer technology: advances and continuous improvements for which you have to pay to benefit from them. Although DNA is not going to change, what is known about it is.