How Genealogy Companies Have Shifted from Ancestry to Health

During the 2000s and early 2010s, there was something of a boom in the ancestry industry. In that time, the technology got faster, smarter and more efficient. People were getting better results, learning more about their past and where they came from. However, over the last few years, the DNA-testing and heritage business seemed to hit a bit of a wall in terms of growth.

There have been many reasons floated as to why a growing industry, one that should be buoyed by new technologies and ease-of-access, could suddenly skid to a halt. One theory is that there is simply a limited amount of people who are intrigued enough to learn about their past. Big players like Ancestry and 23andMe both sold millions of DNA-testing kits over the years, and the theory goes that the well of potential new customers dried up to an extent. Other hypotheses include a reluctance from people to share their data, even if the companies are at pains to stress that they do not misuse it.

Companies look to the medical benefits of DNA-testing

But great companies can roll with such punches, and some of the top genealogy companies have decided to focus less on who our great-grandfathers were and more on the medical benefits of DNA testing. 23andMe, for example, is one of the best options to have a DNA test that looks at both ancestry and health results. The dual approach of offering an insight into your past and your health profile gives a new dimension to the industry; not everyone cares about their past, but plenty of us would like to know if our genes give us a propensity towards some health risks.

And yet, the ambitions of these companies go a lot further than simple health profiles. 23andMe and others have entered into the market for genetic links to specific diseases – diabetes, for example. But these studies are not just designed for the person getting the test alone – doctors can also use them to help and guide the patients, ensuring that they give advice based on the DNA evidence.

Furthermore, we mentioned earlier that millions of people have already had DNA-tests when pursuing their family trees. This is a treasure trove of data for scientists to explore, and it could lead to new medicines and treatments. There is a lot of talk about partnerships between genealogy companies and traditional medical research bodies, and it could lead to some exciting discoveries in the world of healthcare and medicine.

A rush to understand Covid-19

As is ever thus these days, we have to view the actions of these companies within the prism of Covid-19. Both 23andMe and Ancestry got involved in the fight against the pandemic early on. One of the more interesting areas they looked at was why some people get sick with coronavirus, and others remain symptom-free. Estimates vary as to how many people get Covid-19 but remain asymptomatic, but some studies have put it as high as 50%. You can appreciate how looking at the genetics of people who don’t have symptoms might help us understand the disease better, how to fight it and to prevent outbreaks in future.

Genealogy is a complex issue. And even with all the breakthroughs that we see in medicine and technology, there is a sense that there is much more to come. But the companies that once marketed to us based on the curiosity of knowing our past now look to show us something about our present and future. It’s not difficult to see the attraction in that.

RJ Frometa
Author: RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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