How would you describe yourself to a stranger? Would you talk about your hair or eye colour, height, build, or shape of your nose? Perhaps you may mention race or skin shade, tattoos, or birthmarks? You may have more in common with your neighbour than you think!
But would you mention your DNA profile? Well now you can, but certain organizations aren’t happy about it.
23andMe is a DNA spit test that samples tiny snippets of DNA and provides information about your ancestral origins and lineage. Users get a detailed breakdown of what percentage of their DNA comes from populations around the world, and an estimate of how Neanderthal you are! Available online, detailed instructions inside the test kit tell you the best way to obtain a saliva sample that is then sent back to a laboratory for processing.
But the company wasn’t always ancestry focused. Original marketing in the United States focused on health-related genetic reports. The aim was to empower customers with information on their bodies and associated genetic risks, which then could be used to determine likelihood of developing certain disease conditions. This approach caused the test to be banned in the US; however, the company has recently gained approval to market the kit in the United Kingdom.
This is a classic case of technology overtaking science. Apart from ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your ancestry mix, how the results of these genetic tests impact on your health is not known. No guidelines exist that tell health care professionals what to do with these test results and no scientific studies have proved the accuracy or reliability of these DNA genetic tests for assessing disease risk.
Experts from GeneWatch UK have urged people to think twice before buying gene tests online. Genes are poor predictors of most diseases in most people and gene tests are not regulated in Britain, or most other countries worldwide.
GeneWatch UK PR: Consumers warned not to buy unregulated gene tests online. 2nd December 2014