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Emily Drabant Conley on Singularity 1on1: We are at the infancy of a genomic revolution

Emily Drabant Conley YouTubeIt has been almost 5 years since I originally published my 23andMe DNA Test review where I concluded that it was right for me. I also asked you to seriously consider if it may or may not be right for you too. And so, if you still have not considered the risks, the benefits and the costs of doing a DNA test, then today’s episode is for you. I was very fortunate to get an interview with Emily Drabant Conley – research scientist and director of business development at 23andMe. And Dr. Conley was very forthcoming and generous in replying to and addressing a variety of issues related to genetic testing in general and 23andMe in particular. So check out the interview and consider how it may relate to or be useful for you.

During our 45 min conversation with Emily Drabant Conley we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: her background in neuroscience and professional responsibilities at 23andMe (aff); her dream of personalized medicine; the types of information costs and benefits that 23andMe provides; the FDA “seize and desist letter”; how we get “accurate” and “actionable” DNA data; the choice to know or not to know your genes; privacy, hacking and who owns your genetic data; the benefits of full genome testing as well as a huge database system; accessing your raw data and 23andMe’s open API; reading, interpreting and eventually writing DNA…

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more high-quality episodes like this one please make a donation!)

Who is Emily Drabant Conley?

Emily Drabant ConleyEmily Drabant Conley, Ph.D. joined 23andMe in 2010 and currently serves as research scientist and director of business development. She is responsible for building strategic partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, forging research collaborations, and overseeing project execution across a range of therapeutic areas.

Prior to 23andMe, Dr. Conley spent 10 years conducting research that combined genetics and neuroimaging to understand neuropsychiatric disease. She was a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health and is co-author on more than 15 academic publications.

Dr. Conley currently serves on the Advisory Board of the UCSF Alliance Health Project, which provides services to the LGBT and HIV-affected communities in San Francisco.

She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University School of Medicine, where she held fellowships from the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense. She graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in Psychology and Business.

Dr. Conley has been featured on the cover of Pharmaceutical Executive and interviewed by BloombergNPR,FOXABC, and Fast Company, among others.

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  • Brad Arnold


    I am particularly interested in this company because they appear to have the technology to perform gene therapy on adults. I want to alter my genetic makeup to augment my already superior genes (modesty be d@mned). Too bad our primitive ethics have not kept pace with the genomic revolution, so augmentation is frowned upon (partly because aging is not widely recognized as a disease).

  • Brad Arnold


    “Curing aging has 4 stages: mild aging deceleration, dramatic aging deceleration, achieving negligible senescence and rejuvenation. Today we can definitively claim that the task of mild aging deceleration is theoretically solved.

    We know the drugs and interventions that slow down aging in mammals. The only thing that we don’t know is dosages, regimes and drug combinations. Defining all of that is the goal of pre-clinical and clinical studies. They can be started immediately. It is also a good idea to do clinical studies of various diets aimed at improving human longevity.

    Dramatic aging deceleration will be achieved using gene therapy.”

  • Greetings CB and apologies for the late reply!

    So, let me begin by saying that I don’t do product placements, sponsored posts and ads. Period! If you’ve been around my blog and my podcast you must know that. If not just look around. [It is one of the main reasons why I am struggling to sustain the podcast financially speaking]

    I did try to get the 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki and they did try to set it up for a long time but unfortunately she was unable to fit me in her schedule. Then, following the request of my wife and the fact that I have very few women on my interview list, I asked for a female scientist if possible. And so that is how I got to interview Dr. Drabant. So it was not that they were pushing her on me in any way.

    I was also promised 60 minutes of recording time with Emily but unfortunately they had technical set-up problems on their end and she had another appointment she could not miss right after the interview. So we ended up losing 25% of our scheduled time and I got stressed out. So it messed up my Zen and I did not have the best flow and failed to ask a few of my questions.

    Finally, if you do really love my podcast you should know the value I put on ethics and integrity despite the fact that it does not help to pay the bills. Still, I don’t regret having as high a standard as I possibly can and I have to share that it really does hurt when someone who says they love my show doesn’t give me even the benefit of the doubt but makes painful accusations. Those are painful because I really do care about that and it really hurts to think that despite my best effort some people will still throw the stone, be cynics and claim I’ve sold my integrity, or lost my essence or both. Ouch…

  • CB

    No offense was intended. It just seemed like a big promo for a company. Listen, your podcast is an A+ almost all of the time, nobody bats a perfect 1.000. But your podcasts usually tickle deep parts of my brain and this was kinda like a PR campaign. I am sure there are some people who unlike me found it interesting and valuable. I’m sure it brought in a lot of new listeners who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of the show. I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful. In fact, I would not be offended if you took an ad or sponsor – I doubt it would affect your objectivity and it would help fund something we all agree is valuable. Anyway, keep up the Socratic method and your podcast will continue to to be a must-listen. One more suggestion: would love it if you would do a podcast where you had a guest who was generally skeptical the AGI can be acheived anytime soon and someone who thinks AGI is not only inevitable but more imminent. Even if it were past guests, having the two minds spar with you as moderator would make for an interesting discussion. Keep up the good work!

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