The past few years have seen an explosion of DNA tests available to the public. The cost of running DNA tests has gone down, and the increase in scientists doing DNA mapping has gone up, creating the perfect opportunity for a generation that is craving a connection to their ancestors, and to another time.
Critics of DNA tests say that these kits you mail away aren’t accurate, will not give you the full picture of your background, and could be misleading. What are the actual facts?
If you’ve seen CSI or other crime drama shows, you know that DNA is used in many different ways in a forensic setting. DNA itself is basically your identification card. Every piece of you has your DNA in it, and that DNA is completely unique to you. It is formed from both your mother and your father’s genetic material, and no two people have the same DNA.
DNA carries your genetic makeup, so it is basically like a history book as well as a fortune tellers’ ball. Specific genetic markers are often only seen from certain areas of the world, so if you have ‘x’ marker, chances are your DNA traces back to ‘y’ place. But your DNA gives you more than that.
Your DNA can also tell you what diseases or genetic anomalies you might be prone to. There is a genetic component to many ailments like Parkinson’s, cancer, and more. Knowing what is in store won’t stop it from happening, but it can help you prepare by getting tested more regularly and even using preventative treatments.
DNA tests themselves, when done in a forensic setting, are about 99.9% accurate. That is a big number, and basically means for all intents and purposes, it is true. Only in very rare cases do any issues arise. But the DNA ancestry tests are different in that they aren’t comparing samples, but sequencing your DNA.
Each test kit looks at something different in your DNA, for the most part. These companies aren’t trying to sequence your whole DNA strand. They are only trying to see what is most interesting to the consumer, which is usually genetic background, origin, and ‘fun’ facts, like what hair color you may be most likely to carry.
The big problem is that this raw data that comes from sequencing can be interpreted a number of different ways, and each way the results look a little different. How this data is being interpreted by each company comes with a lot of variables, and most of this information is being sorted through and spit out of a computer. No doctor or PhD is actually looking at your information or analyzing it.
If your genetic background is a mystery, or if you have ever wondered just what part of Europe, Asia or Africa you might be from originally, a DNA ancestry kit can be a lot of fun. Many people have found cousins, aunts, and even half-siblings they did not know existed through these kits!
But take any information you get from these kits lightly. If you opt for the option that looks at your disease markers, for instance, don’t take the information as gold. Just because you might have a genetic marker for cancer, or Alzheimer’s, does not guarantee you will develop these in the future – it just means you are more likely to. Always consult with a real doctor about results that concern you!