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Enrollment for this study is now closed. If you would like more information about Roots into the Future, please email roots-help@23andme.com.

Little is known about the connection between DNA and disease in African Americans. The aim of the Roots into the Future study is to increase understanding of how DNA plays a role in health and wellness, especially for diseases more common in the African American community.

23andMe presented research findings from Roots into the Future at the 2012 American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting. More than 6,000 people enrolled in the study within eight months, and we confirmed genetic associations with BMI, height, lupus, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and migraines.

View the poster presentation for the Roots into the Future study

Advisors

“This research initiative presents a tremendous opportunity for African Americans to learn essential information about themselves, their families, and their ancestry.”

– Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
W.E.B. Du Bois Institute,
Harvard University

“Roots into the Future is a ground breaking initiative and will enable African Americans to play an active role in revolutionizing medical research.”

– Dr. Rick Kittles,
Institute of Human Genetics,
University of Illinois, Chicago

Learn more about our advisors »

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23andMe users share stories about their heritage

Frequently Asked Questions

Read our Roots into the Future FAQs or our Research FAQs


Partners




FAQ

Why is 23andMe undertaking this project and how does the company benefit?

23andMe's primary motivation for supporting Roots into the Future is the company's mission to advance genetics research. 23andMe has either partially or fully funded research projects to help drive research in certain communities including Parkinson's, Sarcoma, and MPN. Why Roots into the Future? Most genetic studies have been conducted in European populations, so there exists a widening gap between Europeans and other groups in our understanding of the genetic basis for disease. 23andMe sees an urgent need to scale genetics research within non-European populations in order to narrow that gap. 23andMe's web-based, large scale research model is ideally suited to tackling this problem.

Roots into the Future has enabled 23andMe to:

  • extend its service to provide more value to African American customers
  • generate a more ethnically diverse customer base that makes 23andMe a more attractive research partner
  • leverage 23andMe's bioinformatics expertise, essential to the study of a population with particularly complex ancestry and high levels of genetic diversity

Read more about our Parkinson's, Sarcoma, and MPN communities.

Can I still join this study?

Enrollment for this study is now closed. If you would like more information about Roots into the Future, please email roots-help@23andme.com.

With the recent boom in DNA research, reports of discoveries are appearing daily. However, most studies intentionally limit enrollment to a single population, usually northern Europeans, because the statistical analysis is easier in groups tracing ancestry to just one continental region, and fewer individuals are needed to make discoveries. Furthermore, the genetic diversity of people of African descent is less well studied, making discoveries in this group more challenging. It is unclear whether the discoveries made through studies of Europeans are relevant to other groups such as African Americans. Therefore there is a strong need for a significant study of this population. A very large set of participants in Roots into the Future will enable us to overcome many of the previous challenges.

What is the research plan for Roots into the Future?

23andMe has worked with the Roots into the Future advisory panel to develop a research plan extending through the next two to three years. The project will leverage 23andMe's research platform, which uniquely supports genome wide association studies (GWAS) of many diseases and conditions at once. The platform incorporates Web-based recruitment and phenotype data collection.

Research questions

  • Is percentage of African ancestry correlated with disease risk for a broad range of diseases?
  • Can we replicate discoveries from previous genome wide association study (GWAS) in African Americans (prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, etc)?
  • Can we replicate findings from GWAS in European populations in this African American cohort?
  • Can we discover novel associations with disease in this cohort?

Research methods:

Recruitment:

Our aim is to recruit 10,000 individuals who self identify as African American, Black, or African. Individuals will be recruited through 23andMe's current membership, at events, and via other recruitment channels.

Genetic analysis:

Initially participants will be genotyped using 23andMe's custom-designed genotyping chip. Our chip consists of a fully custom panel of probes for detecting single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) selected by our researchers. The selection was made to maximize the number of actionable health and ancestry features available to customers as well as offer flexibility for future research. In the future other platforms may be used to address more targeted research questions.

Statistical analysis:

Our previously published papers outline details of the core statistical methods we will use for this project:

Note that this project poses challenges beyond our previous studies that were conducted in subsets of the 23andMe membership with European ancestry:

  • Because of the time depth of human history in Africa, genetic diversity is higher in African populations and in groups that trace much of their ancestry to Africa. Because most genotyping chips were developed based on information about non-African genetic variation, these chips do not capture as much of the genetic variation in African Americans as they could. We will begin by using the current 23andMe chip. We may decide at some point to conduct additional genetic analyses; data from the current chip may help us determine who to follow up with for any additional analysis.
  • Most African Americans trace ancestry to multiple continents, which poses particular complications for genome wide association studies. We will use approaches such as admixture mapping, which takes advantage of this pattern, but we are also excited to leverage our strengths in statistical genetics to find novel ways to tackle this challenge.
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 who were both withheld from information about their condition and actively denied treatment. The Tuskegee study was a gross and blatant violation of federal human experimentation guidelines and has been used as as teaching tool 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 final protocol. Any changes to the protocol must be first 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).

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