23andMe announced June 18, 2015 that it had reached the milestone of genotyping its 1 millionth customer. Accompanying this announcement, an email was sent to customers indicating their number within this cumulative growth toward 1,000,000 genetic profiles. This #Powerof1Million campaign encouraged customers using embedded links to communicate their number through different social media channels. Using social media, the 23andMe website, and other connections, during the past week, I've been able to collect over 175 customer numbers along with the date that the results were reported by 23andMe. Going back through the different 23andMe media releases of customers numbers (most linked here), there is a pretty good fit between the numbers reported by 23andMe and the #Powerof1Million customer numbers associated with test dates. However, the customer numbers provide a much richer view of when shifts in the growth rate have occurred. The reduction of the kit price to $99 in December 2012 had a strong and immediate positive impact on growth. On the other hand, the FDA action against 23andMe in November 2013 slowed growth.
To compare the two largest providers of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, excluding The Genographic Project that on their website has indicated for at least the past 6 months the project has 705,343 participants, I went through the releases of customer numbers by AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA got into SNP-based genetic analysis later than 23andMe. 23andMe initiated their personal genome service in November 2007 and had attracted 150,000 customers before AncestryDNA started in May 2012. However, initial growth at 23andMe was slow compared to the explosive growth in the number of AncestryDNA customers. Interestingly, AncestryDNA's most recent release stating 850,000 customers was June 9, 2015, just before 23andMe announced reaching the 1 million mark. If growth in AncestryDNA customers continues at its current rate (350,000 customers added in the last 7 months) it should easily reach the 1 million mark by the end of 2015 and also surpass the size of the 23andMe database.
These trends reveal the broad and growing interest in direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. Granted there is a lot of overlap between 23andMe and AncestryDNA customers, but considering all the different testing options available in the US market, the number of DTC genetic tests is likely approaching 3 million. This broad public interest in genetics is something with which the biological community should take advantage of, because there is great opportunity for public engagement focused around fundamental genetic and evolutionary principles that underlie the interpretations from these data. This is reason I'm developing this website, not only to support a first-year seminar course on The Personal Genome, but also to serve as a general resource for public access. To me, personal genetics is the Biology equivalent that star gazing is to Astronomy, but instead of looking up, personalized genetics enables an individual to look inward to themselves and backward into their past.