Fascination with personal genetics is fuelling an explosion of online DNA testing. More than 12 million people have been tested – 7 million through ancestry.com alone. Amazon reported the 23andMe online DNA test kit as one of its top five best-selling items on Black Friday in 2017.
But while online genetic testing can be interesting and fun, it has risks. Here are five things to keep in mind if you’re considering spitting in a tube.
1. Understand the limits of what’s possible
Keep in mind the evidence behind claims a DNA testing company makes. Some companies list the science that backs up their claims, but many don’t.
DNA testing can be used to tell your ancestry and family relatedness quite accurately, but companies claiming to predict wine preferences or children’s soccer prowess from DNA are in the realm of fantasy.
There is also a lack of regulation on this issue to protect consumers.
2. Make sure you’re prepared for the information
Genetics can tell us many things, some of which we may not be prepared for. You may go in looking for information on your ancestry, but could find out about unexpected paternity. Or you might discover you’re at risk of certain diseases. Some of these have no cure, like Alzheimer’s disease, which could only leave you distressed.
Some products can test for genetic changes in the BRCA genes that put you at risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Other online genetic interpretation tools can take raw data from ancestry DNA tests and, for a small payment, provide a wide range of disease risk estimates, many of which have been brought into question by the scientific community.
Think carefully about whether you really want to know all this information, and whether it’s valid, before you proceed.
3. Consider the medical follow-up you might need
If something serious is discovered in your genes, you might need the results to be professionally interpreted, or to have genetic counselling to come to terms with what you’ve learnt.