Beyond Fortune- Cookie Ge ne tics
In September 2013, an invitation to order a “your 23andMe kit today”
arrived at my home in Berkeley. 23andMe is a personal genome ser-
vice com pany that was cofounded by Anne Wojcicki (who is related
to a founder of Google) in the heart of Silicon Valley. The letter
claims that “the ser vice reports on more than 240 health conditions
and traits, including carrier status, disease risk and how your
may impact your overall health.”1 Furthermore, it added, “You can
also learn about your ancestral history.” This marketing gimmick
underlines that “preventive health information should be accessible
to every one,” thus combining a demo cratizing accessibility with a
sunny injunction to self- management.
23andMe celebrates the dream of making
technology rel-
evant to personal health, educational benefits, and cultural self-
discovery. At
Berkeley, some administrators were inspired to
adopt this user- friendly approach to spark student interest in modern
science. In the fall of 2010, the campus initiated a voluntary Bring
Your Genes to Cal program. Incoming freshmen were invited to
send in their saliva samples to be tested for dif erent kinds of en-
zyme intolerance.2 Meanwhile, 23andMe has been promoted in
American popu lar culture for its power and potential to help individ-
uals search for unknown ancestors. A tele vision show on
by the Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. used 23andMe kits to
trace the ge ne tic ancestry of famous individuals, stirring widespread
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