My grandmother’s life used to follow a strict schedule. In fall she chopped a cow into handy pieces for her refrigerator. In spring she took a saw to cut down the cherry tree in her garden. And in summer she drove around with her gasoline-powered mofa, having schnapps with her bowling group.
My grandmother was stubborn and noisy and she didn’t care about saving the world or her neighbors. She was a bad ass woman. I think about her from time to time, especially when I run into other strong-headed women. Like recently, when I met Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe, a personal genomics company from Mountain View, and ex-wife of Google’s Sergey Brin.
It was during an event near San Francisco. Entrepreneurs, investors and politicians celebrated outside, an air of summer blew on the old mansion, and women’s jewelry sparkled in the evening sun. Although Anne Wojcicki wore a cyan blue tight-fitting dress and golden glittering high heels, she didn’t really fit the scenery.
With her straight back and muscular arms she had the athletic body of a warrior. I could visualize her better in the stadium, running and fighting, like she did during her college time in Yale in an ice-hockey team. Instead of a glass of champagne a hockey stick simply suited her better.
“I know it will take my whole life, but I will do it”, she told me when I asked her about the future of her company. 23andMe, backed by Google Ventures and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, is named after the number of chromosome pairs in a human cell. It offers genetic testing for 200 traits and markers, including the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
As of today, Wojcicki has genotyped over one million individuals. Critics, however, point out that it’s dangerous if a company and not a doctor, delivers news on severe health conditions and that a company even has access to all this genetic information. The U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down parts of 23andMe occasionally.