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Feeling Woozy? 23AndMe Releases First-Ever Genome-Wide Study Of Motion Sickness

The controversial company found 35 genetic factors–like balance, and eye and ear development–that are associated with motion sickness.

Feeling Woozy? 23AndMe Releases First-Ever Genome-Wide Study Of Motion Sickness
[Photo: Flickr user eyeliam]

Consumer genetics firm 23AndMe has issued the first ever genome-wide association study of motion sickness. After the rocky legal back-and-forth between 23AndMe and the FDA that prevents the genetics company from extensively analyzing customer genetics, this study’s results are a solid win, and vindicate 23AndMe’s goals of using its vast bank of genetics data benevolently.

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The study, published in Oxford Journals’ Human Molecular Genetics, is the first to reveal the genetic variants of motion sickness and involved 80,000 consenting customers who had submitted material to 23AndMe to be genetically analyzed.

The study found 35 genetic factors associated with motion sickness that statistically stand out at genome-wide scale–in other words, significant when compared among the whole human genome instead of just looking at particular genes. Many of these factors are in or near genes involved in balance and eye, ear, and cranial development–meaning motion sickness likely triggers effects in these areas. They even found that several of these factors had the potential to hit women harder, potentially tripling motion sickness’ effect on those systems.

Given that roughly one in three people are affected by motion sickness, the study is obviously valuable–and given the highly hereditary nature of motion sickness effects, mapping genetic effects of motion sickness is a perfect fit for 23AndMe. Results from a 2006 study have estimated that up to 70% of variation in risk for motion sickness is due to genetics.

The study also confirmed what we’d already known–that people suffering motion sickness are more prone to migraines, vertigo, and morning sickness. Overall, the results pointed toward the importance of the nervous system in motion sickness and a possible role for glucose levels in motion-induced nausea and vomiting.

While the FDA is preventing 23AndMe from giving U.S. customers analyses of their genetic data, 23AndMe is still selling genetics-gathering kits (sending the customers back ancestry reports instead of a report analyzing their genetic predisposition to disease) and then selling that data to pharmaceutical giants and academic labs. That sounds like just the data profiteering that Facebook has come under fire for, but the results of the motion sickness study back up 23AndMe’s claims that it can participate in illuminating research and make money doing it. To date, 23AndMe and its partners have published or contributed to 22 peer-reviewed papers about breast cancer, asthma, hyperthyroidism, and other genetically affected conditions.

23AndMe customers’ willingness to share data has sped up research speed by magnitudes–a true crowdsourcing of genetic data.

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“Researchers came to 23andMe to learn whether or not a certain gene was more prevalent in cancer patients,” VP of Communications at 23AndMe Angela Calman-Wonson tells Fast Company. “23andMe sent surveys to individuals in our database with that particular gene, asking several cancer-related questions. We received more than 10,000 responses in 12 hours, and were able to determine that the gene was not prevalent among cancer patients. This type of research typically takes months and thousands of dollars, and in this case it took about 48 hours.”

[via EurekaAlert ]

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