Why Google Is Throwing Money at a DNA Test Company With a History of Screwups

Last Updated Nov 12, 2010 9:10 AM EST

There's only one reason why Google (GOOG) invested $3.2 million in 23andMe, a personal genetic testing company: Founder Anne Wojcicki is married to Google founder Sergey Brin. Why else would a company known for its strategic smarts be throwing money at a company with a history of screwups?

Google previously invested $6.5 million in the company and Brin personally has plunked down $3.4 million. The company purports to offer genetic diagnostics for diseases such as breast cancer and restless legs syndrome from samples of customers' saliva. Here's what some of that money is being spent on:


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  • 23andMe admitted it was "Company 1" in the GAO report. That company's data in based largely on European DNA, not African or Asian DNA, and therefore its risk results are useless for non-whites. The company did not give the GAO's mystery shopper his/her money back.
Despite all this, 23andMe's test is still for sale on Amazon. One presumes 23andMe claims the "Laboratory Developed Test" exemption in which the FDA has historically left testing labs to their own devices.

If the FDA changes its mind about that exemption, and things go badly for 23andMe, I'm sure the company will know where to turn for a bailout.

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Image by Flickr user ynse, CC.