In recent years, genetic testing has become easier, faster and more affordable—giving consumers an opportunity to have these tests delivered directly to their doorstep.
Your reasons for getting tested could vary, from health-related testing to simple genealogical curiosity.
Before diving in, it's important to consider the benefits and concerns to determine if this type of testing is right for you.
According to a 2018 NPR-IBM Watson Health Poll, about one-third of Americans say they or a family member have considered getting a genetic test.
Your DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is your own unique genetic code, determining everything from your eye color and hair texture to your personality traits. Companies like 23andMe, AncestryDNA and National Geographic offer genetic testing kits that vary in terms of the information they provide. The type of results you're looking for will ultimately guide you toward which kit you may end up choosing.
Ever wanted to help catch a criminal but knew a career in law enforcement just wasn't in the cards? Well, now you might be able to. If you share DNA with someone who committed a crime and left some evidence behind, law enforcement may be able to use it—if you used an open-source DNA service such as GEDmatch—to connect the dots they need to make an arrest, as seen earlier in 2018 with the arrest of the infamous Golden State Killer. Worth noting: Some services including 23andMe are not open-sourced and have gone on the record to say it's their policy to resist all law enforcement inquiries, to protect customer privacy.
In a slightly more normal, but no less intense vein, it's not totally uncommon to discover new family members. If a family member was adopted and wants to learn more about where they come from, AncestryDNA is a great option. Like 23andMe, it uses genotyping technology to analyze your DNA and share information on your family history and how that lineage connects you to potential ancestors. You never know what inspiring and powerful historical figures you may be related to!
You can also learn more about certain genetic disorders you and/or a spouse may carry, potentially affecting your choices related to family planning.
23andMe now has approval from the FDA to include information about an individual's risk for certain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, in addition to breast-cancer risks based on three mutations on the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. Though initially, this may seem great, experts are worried that individuals getting a "negative" result on their test may provide a false sense of security of not being at risk. If you do decide to be tested this way, it's important to follow up with your doctor and stay on top of preventive measures, regardless of your results.
Privacy has also emerged as an area of concern for some potential test users, who say their DNA could be used against them by insurance companies or without their consent in various ways. Though many companies have strict privacy laws in place to prevent this, it's important to remember the possibility always exists.
Some questions to keep in mind while researching:
- Who owns my DNA?
- Who gets to see my information?
- How is the data tied to your information used?
- Can you opt out of giving research partners your genetic data?
Remember the whole discovering-new-family-members thing? In some cases, this could be an area of concern, if your family relationships are complicated. Be mindful about what you're willing to be confronted with, should you receive some surprising news in this arena.
Regardless of which test you choose, there's a lesson to be learned: Always read all the fine print.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.