Bioethics News

What I Learned From Home DNA Testing

July 25, 2017

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There may come a time in everyone’s life when they find themselves sitting at the kitchen table on an otherwise unexceptional weekday morning, drooling saliva into a test tube in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

The spit is for one of the home genetic-testing kits I’m sampling. A growing number of these kits (brands such as 23andMe, DNAFit, Thriva, MyHeritage DNA, and Orig3n) promise to unlock the mystery of your genomes, variously explaining everything from ancestry, residual Neanderthal variants, “bioinformatics” for fitness, weight loss and skincare, to more random genetic predispositions, denoting, say, the dimensions of your earlobes or the consistency of your earwax.

More controversially, some of these kits profess to tell you your biological (as opposed to actual age) by measuring the length of your telomeres (in basic terms, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes, like plastic tips at the end of shoelaces). Other tests, such as 23andMe, predict higher risks of developing serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, including the test for BRCA1/BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer) that Angelina Jolie famously underwent, going on to have a preventative double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.