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QUARTZ PRESENTS

How businesses are building an industry using your DNA

DESIGN: QUARTZ/ALCIA GEARTY. PHOTO: UNSPLASH/JJ YING
  • Dasia Moore
By Dasia Moore

Presentation producer

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Mail-order DNA tests might already be past their peak. AncestryDNA and 23andMe began the year by laying off around 100 employees each. But that doesn’t mean the genetics boom is over. Seed and venture capital investors have poured more than $6 billion into genetics startups since 2000, and the stream of capital isn’t likely to end anytime soon as new technologies, including the ability to edit genes, emerge.

Quartz’s latest presentation walks you through the industry built from your DNA—from the explosion of direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA tests to the growing business of gene editing. We dig into the ethical concerns that weigh on consumers and investors even as they crave the next big thing in the business of DNA.

Cost was the most important factor in taking genetics out of the lab and into the world’s mailboxes. It now costs $942 to sequence a human genome, about 0.001% of what it cost in 2001. Rapid advances in DNA-reading technology and falling costs allow DTC companies to sell their tests at low price points and with quick turnaround. A 23andMe test, for example, costs as little as $99 and delivers results in two to three weeks.

Together, the US’s top DTC genetics companies have reached more than 26 million users. But while ordinary people know more than ever about their DNA, they know less than ever about who has access to it. DTC DNA companies’ lack of transparency has likely contributed to the industry slowdown: NPR reports that 47% of US adults who took a DNA test or had a family member do so are concerned about privacy. Other concerns are emerging, too, including the imprecision of genetic testing and the complicated ethics of using genetics to determine heritage or identity.

Whatever the future of DTC DNA companies, investors’ appetite for genetics does not seem to be going anywhere. January 2020 saw $300 million in capital invested in seven genetics startups. Notably, five of the seven are gene therapy and gene editing companies. Just one is a gene reading business, and none is DTC.

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