Dec 042011
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Everyone can see the resulting data and download it, including scientists

A wealth of extra free genetic data could be at scientists’ fingertips if a new website allowing the public to make their test results available gets enough traction.

OpenSNP provides a way for people who have had tests carried out by direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies – so far 23andMe, deCODEme and Family Tree DNA are supported – to upload their raw results online along with personal characteristics they wish to share from their eye colour to artistic ability to coffee consumption. Everyone can see the resulting data and download it, including scientists.

The non-profit hobby project, developed by three master’s degree students and a web developer, has just won first place – worth $10,001 – in the inaugural API Binary Battle, a competition funded by the paper sharing site Mendeley and the open access publishers Public Library of Science (PLoS) to build applications to make science more open while tapping into either or both platforms.

Bastian Greshake, studying for his master’s degree in ecology and evolution at Goethe University, Frankfurt, first had the idea for openSNP after he got himself genotyped this May. It provides a central repository for people who are willing to publicly share the powerful combination of both their genetic and phenotypic information, potentially enabling scientists to discover new genetic associations in the future, he explains.

While the companies already supply consenting customers’ genetic data for scientific research, and there are websites where people can upload their own, this is the first which includes phenotypic information too.

Thus far about 50 users have added their data to the website, which launched at the end of September. Greshake anticipates that at around 1000 data sets it will begin being useful for scientific study (though the information is entered on trust and data are unchecked).

Some scientists have already been in contact. “They thought it was a great idea and wanted to know how they can request our users provide extra phenotypic information,” he says.

Other than a rosy glow, the incentive for those willing to share their data are updates on the latest genetics research published in PLoS journals along with recommendations from Mendeley, of which summaries are also provided: great if you are interested in learning more about the genetic variations you are carrying.

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