"23andMe presents a tremendous opportunity for African Americans to learn essential information about themselves, their families and their ancestry."
Our Roots into the Future® Project
Our commitment to diversity drives this large-scale genetics study of African Americans.
We launched this genetic study of more than 10,000 African Americans in an effort to better understand the connection between DNA and disease.
Published preliminary findings. View the presentation.
We kicked off our first African Ancestry Project, which recruited people with four grandparents from Sub-Saharan Africa. Our goal: to improve our knowledge of African genetic diversity.
We published the first ever genetic portrait of the United States, showing the complex mixture of African, Native American and European ancestry.
We reached the milestone of 45,000 African Americans participating in 23andMe research.
We received an NIH grant to help us develop a new analysis pipeline that may alleviate disparities in research.
"We're distant cousins."
What will you discover about your ancestry?
The first genetic portrait of the United States.
Using data gathered from the 23andMe Roots into the Future project we published "The genetic ancestry of African, Latino, and European Americans across the United States," the first large-scale national mapping of genetic ancestry that reflects historical migrations. It appeared in the American Journal of Human Genetics on December 18, 2014.
"We show that the signatures of recent historical migrations can be seen in the DNA of present-day Americans. Furthermore, our results can inform the design of medical genetic studies. For example, the presence of Native American and African ancestry in European Americans may have implications for genetic studies of complex diseases."--Dr. Kasia Bryc, 23andMe Population Geneticist
Funding for more diversity in research.
In April of 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded a 23andMe study that could help alleviate some of the existing disparities in genetics research between people of European ancestry and people of African, Latino and Asian ancestry.
With our data and this funding we aim to gain insights into genetic variants important for populations that are underrepresented in current research on health conditions and traits.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PhD
is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Dr. Gates earned his PhD in English Literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Gates is Editor-in-Chief of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine focusing on issues of interest to the African American community. With Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, he is the co-editor of the eight-volume biographical encyclopedia African American National Biography (Oxford, 2008). Dr. Gates is also the author of Faces of America (New York University Press, 2010), which expands on interviews he conducted for his critically acclaimed PBS documentary series of the same name.
is an avid genealogy researcher who has been researching her family tree since 2004 with the ultimate goal of tracing poorly documented African American branches of her tree back to Africa. Erica was an engineer at Google for over ten years and now works at Slack Technologies. She's been an advocate for more diversity in Silicon Valley, and worked to push companies to be more transparent about the diversity of their workforce. In 2015 the noted tech journalist Kara Swisher singled out Erica as a woman to watch in the coming years.
Carlos Bustamante, PhD
is Professor of Genetics at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante earned his PhD in biology, along with an M.A. in statistics, at Harvard University in 2001. His scientific interests center on population genetics with a focus on analyzing genome-wide patterns of variation to address fundamental questions in biology, anthropology, and medicine. His most current research focuses on human population genomics and global health including developing statistical, computational, and genomic resources for enabling trans- and multi-ethnic genome-wide association and medical sequencing studies of common human diseases. Dr. Bustamante is the recipient of numerous awards including a MacArthur Fellows Award.
Joanna L. Mountain, PhD
is 23andMe's Senior Director of Research. She joined 23andMe in 2007 and is responsible for overseeing research projects, ensuring the protection of research participants, and developing ancestry product offerings. Joanna earned a PhD in Genetics from Stanford University and served on the faculties of the Anthropological Sciences and Genetics Departments there. She has been awarded multiple grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and has authored or co-authored over 50 papers in human genetics. Joanna spent two years in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer and continues to be particularly interested in the genetic diversity of Africa.
Why is genetic research into African American populations important to 23andMe?
Most genetic studies have been conducted on people of European ancestry, so there is a gap in our understanding of the genetic factors that influence disease among those of other ancestries. 23andMe sees an urgent need to scale research within non-European populations so all people can benefit from breakthroughs in genetic science. 23andMe's web-based, large scale research model is ideally suited to tackling this problem.
What is the Roots into the Future project?
In 2011, 23andMe worked with the National Urban League and the Du Bois Institute to recruit 10,000 African Americans to participate in research. The recruitment phase of the project was highly successful and led to an increase in awareness of this research initiative as well as 23andMe's ancestry reports. This initiative took us from 1,500 African Americans in our research database in 2010 to over 45,000 today.
Roots into the Future has enabled 23andMe to:
- Create a more ethnically diverse research cohort.
- Conduct research about people of non-European ancestry.
- Leverage 23andMe's bioinformatics expertise to study people of mixed ancestry.
What are the results to date?
23andMe presented preliminary research results from Roots into the Future at the 2012 American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting. Those initial analyses confirmed previously discovered genetic associations with Body Mass Index, height, lupus, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and migraines. This project also enabled 23andMe to conduct a study of genetics across the United States, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2015. More recently, 23andMe has analyzed data on a much broader range of traits and conditions. We do not yet have results to publish.
More importantly, the project enabled 23andMe to submit and obtain funds from the National Institutes of Health to implement a new approach to genetic analysis that benefits from the mixed ancestry of African Americans. Read more.
What research questions does the Roots into the Future project address?
Is percentage of African ancestry correlated with disease risk for a broad range of diseases?
- Can we replicate discoveries from previous genome wide association studies (GWAS) in African Americans (prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, etc)?
- Can we replicate genetic findings in European populations in this African American cohort?
- Can we discover novel associations with disease in this cohort?
I have heard of the Tuskegee study, how is this project different?
The Tuskegee Syphilis Project, conducted from 1932 to 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service, was performed to study the natural progression of syphilis in poor, rural black men in Tuskegee, Alabama. But in an egregious example of misconduct, researchers withheld from these men information about their condition, and the researchers also actively denied treatment for these men. The Tuskegee study was a gross and blatant violation of federal human experimentation guidelines and has been used as as teaching example ever since. In contrast with Tuskegee, our research platform has received and is being conducted only with standard Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval of the research procedures. Any changes to those procedures must be reviewed and approved by the IRB before being implemented. 23andMe's IRB is an Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP)-accredited company, Ethical and Independent Review Services, Inc. (Independence, MO and San Anselmo, CA).
Are 23andMe customers required to take part in research?
No. Anyone who signs up for 23andMe's service is given the opportunity to consent to have their genetic and other information used in research. They may then choose which surveys and questions to respond to.
How does 23andMe protect the privacy of research participants?
See our Privacy Statement for details.