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Genetic Testing Goes Mainstream

July 11, 2018

My apologies to you is this topic is distressingly off-bird-topic. We do run blogs of a general science nature – those videos we post every 4-5 days, for example – and this topic fits well within that category. But most of our readers have read about genetic testing; many have sent in their DNA for testing, or are thinking about it but want to know more before they plunk down $80-$1000. This is for you as a public service.

You are likely already well aware of the enormous effects of recent advances in DNA analysis on all biological fields. The familial relationships of bird orders, families, genera and species are reshuffled yearly; new field guides are out-of-date before they’re printed. All people with European ancestry have neanderthals in their family tree. Disorders are daily discovered to have genetic mutations as their cause. Stem cells, designer DNA, evolution, insurance discrimination, eugenics – the list goes on.

In 2017, more than seven million people, mostly in the United States, sent their DNA to testing companies. Are you one of them? Are you one of the many millions more thinking about it?

In any case, you should read this series of reports from Science News, to which we provide links. Science News, in publication for over 100 years, is a widely-read and respected bimonthly devoted entirely to science.  [Chuck Almdale]

Special Report: Genetic Testing Goes Mainstream
This links to the entire collection of reports.
For an individual report, links are provided farther below.
Consumers are jumping on the genetic testing bandwagon. Many don’t know what’s in store. What you can expect to learn from consumer genetic testing. Review of experiences with companies offering health-focused and ancestry-based readouts. A close look at genetic privacy policies. The usefulness of prenatal genome testing. The risks of direct-to-consumer telomere testing. A video explanation of DNA recombination shows how heredity works.

The following chart doesn’t appear in the on-line articles, but was included in the magazine version of  Comparative Review (final item below). If the chart is garbled in your email, read it on the blog. Additional testing services Veritas and Genos, not included below, are discussed in The Comparison of Results article (see link below).

  National Geographic Geno 2.0 Living DNA Family Tree DNA 23andMe Ancestry DNA
Cost $200 $159 $79** $99 $99
Ethnicity Estimates Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Relative Matching Coming Soon Yes Yes Yes
Neanderthal Results Yes Yes
Analysis of Y Chromosome Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Yes Yes Yes Yes
Family Tree Building Yes Yes
Pros Specialized for looking into the deep past Offers detailed ethnicity estimates for people of British or Irish descent Incorpor-ates DNA results into family trees Explains results well Allows DNA results to be combined with traditional genealog-ical records
Cons Provides no ancestry information within the last 500 years Can’t link relatives to a family tree Doesn’t explain results well; website is hard to navigate Can’t link relatives to a family tree Provides no information about ancient ancestry
** Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA analysis costs extra


What is DNA recombination? – YouTube Video | Science News
DNA recombination can be a confusing concept, especially in how it can influence consumer genetic test results. If you’re wondering why you and your sibling seem to have very different ancestors, this explanation, using lego blocks, makes it all clear.

Consumer DNA testing promises more than it delivers.
Here’s what to expect from consumer DNA tests.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published by Science News 5/26/18

The Comparison of Results
What genetic tests from 23andMe, Veritas and Genos really told me about my health. What you need to know before signing up for at-home DNA testing.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published by Science News 5/26/18

Privacy and Consumer Genetic Testing Don’t Always Mix
Protections are spotty at best and vary by testing company.
Writer: Cassie Martin
Published online by Science News 6/5/18

Why Using Genetic Genealogy to Solve Crimes Could Pose Problems
Some worry that authorities could violate people’s rights using the method.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published online by Science News 6/7/18

Risks and Riddles
What consumer DNA data can and can’t tell you about your risk for certain diseases. Consumers face lots of choices and unanswered questions.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published by Science News 6/9/18

A Peek into the Womb
Guidelines call for limits to whole genome testing for fetuses.
Writer: Laura Sanders
Published by Science News 6/9/18

Finding Family
DNA testing can bring families together, but gives mixed answers on ethnicity. Ethnicity estimates vary widely depending on which company is doing the testing. DNA testing helped one man find his biological family in southern Maryland and his Irish roots.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published by Science News 6/23/18

At-home telomere (the “cap” at each end of each chromosome) testing is not a reliable marker of aging, researcher says. Companies pledge to tell you your cellular age from a drop of blood. Don’t be so sure.
Writer: Cory Vanchieri
Published by Science News 6/23/18

Comparative review of 5 DNA testing companies
What author Saey actually learned about her family after trying 5 DNA ancestry tests. Results can vary widely depending on which company you use.
Writer: Tina Hesman Saey
Published by Science News 6/23/18

  1. G.Moriarty permalink
    July 11, 2018 9:30 am

    Thanks for this very useful guide to some genetic testing options. One aspect that is not addressed is the security of the information garnered. Are there privacy considerations to be aware of?


    • Chukar permalink*
      July 11, 2018 5:10 pm

      Excellent comment. I can’t say for certain, but I know that with some of the testing companies you can opt in/out on having your DNA results available to others for research purposes. It would be prudent to assume that “others” could easily allow anyone – gov’t, insurance cos., etc. – to take a look. Considering the lack of security/privacy of data nearly everywhere else on the web, I’d assume the worst. This is certainly a topic that needs to be dealt with, but it is well outside my brief, as they say.


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