Tuesday 22 October 2019

Attacks on genetic privacy via uploads to genealogical databases

Update 7th January 2020
This paper has now been published in the peer-reviewed open access journal eLIFE. You can read it here.  In the same journal there is also a good commentary article by Shai Carmi "Genealogy: the challenges of maintaining genetic privacy" which you can read here

A new preprint has just been published by Michael "Doc" Edge and Graham Coop from the University of California Davis about some potential security risks in genetic genealogy databases. The paper is concerned with genealogy databases which accept uploads (ie, GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA, Living DNA and MyHeritage DNA). AncestryDNA and 23andMe do not accept uploads so they are not affected. Not all of the techniques described in the paper would necessarily work at all the companies. The companies were all given early sight of the paper so they have had the opportunity to make any adjustments. I understand that GEDmatch have already taken some unspecified measures and are considering more. The authors have provided a few suggestions on possible solutions for dealing with the risks they have highlighted and improving security such as using cryptographic signatures on DNA data files.

The authors have written some FAQs about their paper and if you want to understand what it is all about I recommend reading these FAQs first.

If you want to read the full paper it can be found here.

UC Davis have issued a press release which can be found here.

Leah Larkin has written an excellent blog post about the paper explaining the concepts in easy-to-understand terms.

Blaine Bettinger has shared his thoughts in this blog post.

I will update this post with further links if I find any other useful commentaries on the subject.

Update 18th December 2019
An updated copy of the preprint was uploaded to BiorXiv on 18th December and can be seen here.

Thursday 17 October 2019

Big changes at Living DNA

There have been some major updates at Living DNA. Their long-awaited new website has just been launched, and they have expanded their product range. The website upgrade will allow Living DNA to speed up processing times. By January 2020 they hope to have a system in place to allow them to deliver regular matches and notifications. At the moment the matching database is only re-run every two weeks. Most importantly, the update will allow Living DNA to update the ancestry reports with new regions. Spain and Germany are apparently nearly ready to go, and there are other updates in the pipeline, though anyone waiting for Scotland and Ireland will have to wait a little longer. The ancestry maps page has also been re-designed.

The new website is designed to be more accessible to non-genealogists and will guide the user through all the steps to ensure that they are able to access all the features. There is a simplified activation process which will allow for easier kit management for elderly relatives who do not use a computer. The upgrade process has also been simplified and now includes the ability to upload zip files. You will be able to opt in to relative matching with a single click.

At the time of writing the new website is live but I don't yet have the new "onboarding" experience or the updated ancestry maps. I will update this post with screenshots as and when they are available.

In the meantime here are some screenshots provided by Living DNA showing the new portal experience. (The names are all from a dummy account.) The screenshot below shows the new dashboard.

This is the redesigned ancestry map.

New products
The product range has been revamped and Living DNA are now offering a low-priced taster kit for £49/$49. The starter test includes the following reports:
● Your global ancestry breakdown across continents
● The ability to find people around the world who you share DNA with
● A nutrition report determining if your genetics indicate that you are prone to Vitamin D deficiency
● The type of exercise your muscles respond to best

Starter kit customers can upgrade to the ancestry experience for £49/$49 and the wellbeing experience for £69/$69.

The full ancestry test remains the same as before and is priced at $99/£99.

There is now a new wellbeing test with a full range of fitness and nutrition reports. This kit costs £129/$129. It will include a selection of reports indicating:
● How your body responds to different vitamins
● How your body breaks down foods to which your body may be sensitive to such as gluten or lactose
● How your body responds to different types of fitness.
● How to understand what type of exercise best supports your body. For example, it is claimed that DNA can indicate if you are better suited to running and sprinting or weight and circuit training.

Customers who order at launch will also receive a complimentary 180-day updates package worth £39/$39 that provides new reports as they are released.

Here is a screenshot of a sample wellbeing report.

There is also a bundle priced at £179/$179 which combines the full collection of ancestry, nutrition and fitness reports.

Existing Living DNA customers will have the option to upgrade their accounts in mid-November 2019 to purchase the full wellbeing test for a reduced rate of £49/$49 (normally £69/$69) until 31st December 2019.

This blog post was updated on 17th October to include a photo of the new starter kit and screenshots of the new portal provided by Living DNA.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Launch of AncestryHealth® in the US

Ancestry have today announced the launch of AncestryHealth®, a new genetic health testing service. The test is currently only available to customers in the US, but cannot currently be sold to people living in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. AncestryHealth® has to be ordered through a doctor and you need to be over 18 to place an order. The test is currently being offered to existing Ancestry members before being rolled out to the general public.

Here is the press release I have received from Ancestry:
Ancestry® Announces Genotype and Next Generation Genetic Sequencing Services 
LEHI, Utah & SAN FRANCISCO - (Oct. 15, 2019) – For more than 30 years, Ancestry®, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, has built innovative services that empower millions of people to make more meaningful discoveries about themselves and their families. First with family history, then through DNA and today, with the introduction of AncestryHealth®. AncestryHealth is a long-term commitment to making a difference in preventive health through personalized and actionable insights. 
Through a highly supportive and guided experience, AncestryHealth services deliver actionable insights that can empower people to take proactive steps -- in collaboration with their healthcare provider -- to address potential health risks identified in their genes and family health history. In a recent AncestryDNA® customer survey, 83 percent of respondents said they are looking for new ways to improve their health and 89 percent said it is critical for their children to learn about improving their health. 
AncestryHealth is launching with two new services. AncestryHealth Core™, a one-time, array-based service, and AncestryHealth Plus™, a membership service using next generation sequencing (NGS) technology, help people start on the path toward better health for themselves and their families. 
AncestryHealth services include:
  • Physician-ordered tests that were developed and are performed by independent CLIA-certified laboratories
  • Educational information, including access to genetic counseling resources
  • Printable consumer and physician-ready reports that provide guidance for next steps an individual and their healthcare provider can take together
Ancestry has partnered with PWNHealth, an independent network of board-certified physicians and genetic counselors, to offer these services, which are included in both AncestryHealth Core and AncestryHealth Plus. 
“Your genes don’t need to be your destiny. Understanding your familial and inherited health risks can help you take action with your doctor to improve your chances of better health outcomes,” said Margo Georgiadis, chief executive officer of Ancestry. “For more than three decades, Ancestry has empowered journeys of personal discovery to enrich lives. In the same way that knowledge of your family and ethnicity helps you understand your past to inspire your future, knowledge of your genetic health profile and any associated risks can help you be proactive in managing the future for you and your family.” 
AncestryHealth Products and Availability 
AncestryHealth delivers personalized insights so people can take action to better manage their health in collaboration with their healthcare provider. 
  • AncestryHealth Core is a first step on the journey of understanding how family heritage and genetics can impact health and wellness. It covers a set of curated, common ‘need to know’ health conditions and includes printable family health history and lab reports people can share with their healthcare provider. The physician-ordered laboratory test included in AncestryHealth Core uses genotyping array technology to detect genetic differences and deliver personalized reports related to health conditions such as heart disease, hereditary cancers, blood-related disorders, and risks for carrier status of health conditions, such as Tay-Sachs disease. Additionally, there are wellness reports on topics such as nutrition and metabolism. AncestryHealth Core is priced at $149 and includes AncestryDNA. Existing AncestryDNA customers can upgrade to AncestryHealth Core for $49. 
  • AncestryHealth Plus will use next generation sequencing (NGS) technology to deliver more comprehensive screening data, providing both greater coverage of DNA differences for each condition and more risk categories such as those related to potentially developing heart disease, cancers, and disorders related to blood, the nervous system and connective tissues. For new customers, AncestryHealth Plus with NGS technology has a $199 activation fee, which includes the first six months of membership with an additional $49 membership fee every six months. Existing AncestryDNA customers can upgrade to AncestryHealth Plus for an initial payment of $49. The ongoing membership will include quarterly screening updates, more educational resources and enhanced tools for family health history and healthcare provider collaboration.
Both AncestryHealth services include simple, step-by-step guidance to help people track and record their family health history all in one place. Family health history information often holds important clues about an individual’s risk for disease and is an important foundation, along with genetic screening, to proactively identify and address potential health risks. Customers can download and share a printable version of their family health history, along with their test results, with their healthcare provider so they can have the information necessary to personalize their care and take proactive steps where clinically necessary. 
“Genetics play an important role in your health, along with factors such as your family’s health history, lifestyle and diet,” said Catherine Ball, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Ancestry. “Our job is to make sure our customers are educated, informed and supported throughout their health journey with us. Empowered with the right information, they can take proactive steps now to manage their and their families’ health for years to come.” 
Ancestry is committed to safeguarding customers’ data and privacy. Just like all Ancestry offerings, AncestryHealth gives customers full consent and control over their own data at all times. Ancestry does not share customers’ DNA data with insurers, employers or third-party marketers. 
AncestryHealth services are now available at www.ancestry.com/health.
I note from the website that the AncestryHealth Plus next generation sequencing test is not currently available but is expected to launch in early 2020. I understand that this will be an exome sequencing test and not a whole genome sequence. The exome is the part of your genome containing all the genes.

We've long known that Ancestry have wanted to enter the health testing market. They partnered with Quest Diagnostics in 2016 to provide "wellness" reports. Clearly this new service has been planned very carefully. However, Ancestry face stiff competition from 23andMe who have revitalised their service and are now the only company with FDA approval to sell health reports direct to the consumer. 23andMe offer a much wider range of health and trait reports. Their health reports are available in the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. As I reported in July this year, MyHeritage have also entered the genetic health testing market. The MyHeritage health test is also available direct to the consumer and is sold in nearly all countries of the world but US customers have to order through a doctor.

Further reading