Genetrack Biolabs Inc. got a lesson in the scary rules of retail after the Vancouver-based genetic-testing lab released its first consumer product. The lab analyzes DNA for such clients as the Canadian court system and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Its commercial software, a Facebook-like social-networking service focused on genetics, recently became a consumer hit. Then things got nasty.
“One of the things I realized about business is that they’re not as friendly as scientists,” says Genetrack president and CEO June Wong. “This is a battleground. It’s not always about whose product is the best, it’s not about who’s the most honest; it’s really about competitors killing you.”
Because of ongoing legal action, Wong can’t give a lot of details, but she says the company has hired a full-time legal team to handle defamation issues, sent out numerous cease-and-desist notices and hired a private investigator to sniff out a possible smear campaign involving faked emails and consumer reviews.
It’s all the result of a new hobby: using your DNA to research your roots. Advances in DNA analysis, linked with online networking software, inspired developers at Genetrack to create the DNA Ancestry Project, which was first released in 2005. The box – now available at Best Buy in Canada – includes some software and a DNA testing kit. Users simply swab the inside of their cheek and send a sample to Genetrack, and within a few weeks they’ve got an online profile including DNA data. Users can build a family tree, connect with people who share genetic markers and look up amusing facts about their DNA stretching back hundreds of thousands of years.
But Genetrack is not alone in this fad. The National Geographic Society built much of the craze with its Genographic Project, and several competitors have followed. The competition is fierce, Wong says, and some companies are promising answers that current DNA science can’t give, leaving some customers confused and frustrated.
“They over-glamorize it, they generalize it, they sensationalize the whole thing,” she says.But this scientist isn’t bowing to the pressure. With its legal team in action and deals signed with U.S. retailers, Wong says Genetrack’s boxes should be on U.S. store shelves.