Ambitious DNA research ‘logs’ onto Facebook

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New York, April 4 (IANS) As part of a large project aimed at discovering new links between certain genetic variants, health and disease, scientists have turned towards an unusual partner — Facebook.

The researchers aim to screen the genes of at least 20,000 people and they have developed a Facebook app to recruit people for the study, BuzzFeed News reported.

The scientists behind the project titled “Genes for Good” hope that Facebook users will send a tube of their spit to a laboratory at the University of Michigan and use a free Facebook app to fill out periodic surveys about their health, habits and moods.

The scientists will screen the volunteers’ DNA to try to discover new links between certain genetic variants, health and disease. To rigorously establish these links, the researchers will need to enlist tens of thousands of volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“We’re really hoping that the main reason people will join is to say ‘Hey, my health and genetic information is valuable. I would like to share it and put it to good use,'” project leader Gonalo Abecasis from the University of Michigan was quoted as saying.

“Hopefully that will be the major motivator,” Abecasis added.

Abecasis and his colleagues stress that the Facebook app is a digital portal and that Facebook will not have access to volunteers’ personal information.

From the scientists’ perspective, Facebook is simply a communication service — a smart way to recruit the massive number of volunteers needed to carry out complex genetic studies.

“The standard ways of collecting information on people don’t really scale,” Abecasis said.

Genes for Good could go viral if it taps into the public’s philanthropic vein — as did Facebook’s organ donation status field, get out to vote campaigns and the Ice Bucket Challenge.

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