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23andMe data helps find genetic factors behind depression

It's the largest study of its kind for major depressive disorder.
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Tim Vernon / Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Genetic samples from 23andMe users have contributed to scientific discoveries before, but never quite like this. Researchers have used gene samples from 307,354 23andMe customers to identify 32 genetic factors (15 genetic loci and 17 nucleotide polymorphisms) linked to major depressive disorder among people of European descent -- the largest-ever study of its type. The data hints that genes responsible for developing neurons may correspond to those triggering this form of depression, and that the genetic areas associated with depression may play a part in other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia.

This isn't about to usher in a cure or treatment. Scientists haven't yet found a way to turn genetic findings around mental illness into practical solutions. It could get the ball rolling, however, and will at least help explain how major depressive disorder works. And as 23andMe is more than a little eager to point out, it's a testament to how large-scale, customer-submitted genomic data can lead to answers that might be difficult to obtain through conventional studies.

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