23andMe Populations Collaborations Program


At 23andMe, we want our database and our genomics studies to reflect the rich genetic diversity of all people. If you are a researcher and you seek to genotype a population that is under-represented in genetic studies, we’d like to collaborate with you.

23andMe’s Populations Collaborations program aims to expand and improve our Reference Data Panel through capturing the genetic diversity of populations around the world who are underrepresented in our database and in genetics research globally. By genotyping samples from such populations, we will support researchers who are working with understudied populations and thereby expand genomic studies to be more inclusive.

The 23andMe Reference Data Panel consists of genotype data of people representing locations and groups from across the world; the primary use of these data is to power our ancestry reports. We intend to use the data acquired through this program to conduct research for publication and to improve 23andMe’s products and services.


How it works

Step 1

23andMe sends sample collection tubes to researcher. Researcher takes tubes to study site.*

Step 2

Research participants spit and answer demographic questions.

Step 3

Researcher ships tubes back to 23andMe.

Step 4

23andMe genotypes the samples and transfers data to the researcher.

*Collaborating institution responsible for compliance with all applicable laws.


What 23andMe will provide

23andMe will provide the researcher with individual-level genotype data for your research participants. The chip we use is based on the Illumina® Global Screening Array (GSA), one of the Illumina Human Consortia arrays. This array has been designed by a consortia of prominent international researchers to provide highly predictive, hand-curated content, as well as high value markers for translational research applications and sample quality control that are designed to be useful across a broad range of applications, populations, and diseases. We have added SNPs of particular interest to us to this chip, resulting in a total of over 600,000 SNPs tested.


Recent Collaboration Highlights

Through prior collaborations of this nature, we have generated data from populations including peoples of Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and southern Africa.


Application Process

We accept applications from US-based researchers and review these to select proposals for the limited number of collaborative projects we initiate annually. We will next be accepting proposals in Spring 2019. Applications are reviewed by an internal committee with expertise in human and population genetics. Successful applicants will be notified by email.


What type of collaboration is of interest to 23andMe?

We are interested in genotyping populations that are understudied in genetics. There are many such populations worldwide, and we are open to collaborations with researchers working with any such population.

We are most interested in projects where the researcher has already identified a population and has developed the appropriate relationships and approvals necessary to work with these groups. If selected, 23andMe will work with the researcher to develop the appropriate research consent. If you have questions regarding elements that must be included, please email us at apply.research@23andme.com.

We expect that researchers seek to genotype between 300 and 1000 research participants, including 50-100 individuals from any given ethnolinguistic group, and that the researcher already has a study plan in place and is interested in the possibility of including a genetic component in their analysis. The researcher will also be responsible for obtaining both saliva and basic demographic information about the research participants. This includes their age and sex, as well as the birthplaces, ethnic affiliations, and language(s) spoken by the participants and their grandparents.


Who can apply?

  • Institutions can be public or private but must be US-based, and the research must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • Researchers may be at any stage of their careers. Applications submitted by a group of researchers at the same institution will also be considered.
  • Researcher should be at an early stage in the genetics research project, such that if selected, 23andMe can work with the researcher to develop the appropriate research protocol and consent.


How do I apply?

We will next be accepting proposals in Spring 2019 using the following form:

Populations Collaborations Application Form


Your application will include the following information:

  • A research proposal summary, which will be made public if the proposal is accepted (no more than 500 words).
  • A description of the proposed research project. This should include how you intend to use the genetic data, the reason for your interest in studying the specific population or ethnolinguistic group(s), the anticipated number of research participants, plans for engaging local researchers or local community members in the project, planned timing for sample collection, and who you envision would access the data resulting from this collaboration (no more than 2,000 words).
  • A description of any previous research with the population (If you haven’t worked with this population, please briefly describe similar work with another population.)
  • A description of your plans for obtaining necessary consents, approvals and permits, including but not limited to the following:
    • Any necessary letters of permission from relevant government agencies to conduct research in the country of interest and obtain samples.
    • Any permissions to transport samples out of the country where the samples are collected and into the U.S. (per country-specific import/export laws).
    • IRB-approval of the research protocol* to be used to obtain the samples.
  • A list of co-investigators and other personnel who will access the data.
  • An NIH-style biosketch or CV for the principal investigator.

*The informed consent document will be developed with 23andMe input, to include permission for 23andMe to store, access, and analyze the sample and use the resulting data for 23andMe’s intended purposes.


How will applications be evaluated?

Applications will be evaluated by 23andMe scientists based on the following considerations:

  1. Extent to which the population is understudied or under-represented in 23andMe’s database
  2. Expertise of and resources available to the investigators
  3. Willingness to share resulting samples and data with 23andMe
  4. Extent to which the project benefits the community studied


Additional Information and Requirements

  • Collaborators must agree that the results of their research will be published in open-access scientific journals (or open-access articles) and according to 23andMe’s publication policy.
  • Collaborators may not file for intellectual property rights covering the results of this collaborative research.
  • 23andMe may request that collaborators meet with 23andMe (in person or by phone) to discuss the research.
  • 23andMe may provide a one-time grant of up to $10,000 to support field collection or other project costs.
  • 23andMe is open to the possibility of follow-up sequencing projects on a case-by-case basis.
  • To enable 23andMe’s collaboration and data transfer, each collaborator must enter into an Agreement with 23andMe, including the above terms and other requirements.


Other Types of Collaborations

If your research project does not meet the requirements of the Populations Collaborations program, we provide additional options for collaborations:

  • Research Innovation Collaborations. If you have an idea for how to collaborate with 23andMe scientists to analyze data from the 23andMe Research Cohort in order to discover new genetic associations and/or develop new methods and tools, learn more about this program here.
  • Publication Dataset Access. If you are interested in accessing summary statistics from a dataset included in a 23andMe publication, learn more here.


About protecting privacy

Protecting the privacy of research participants is of critical importance to 23andMe. Data sharing is structured to provide the same robust privacy protections that 23andMe Research participants have as part of participation in 23andMe Research. Only data from research participants who have agreed to 23andMe’s approved project-specific consent(s), which will be consistent with 23andMe’s Research consent that has been approved by our IRB, will be incorporated into any analysis. Any data sharing will be in accordance with the terms of the Agreement between 23andMe and the collaborator’s institution.

If you have questions, please contact the Populations Collaborations Program Manager Anjali Shastri (ashastri@23andme.com).