DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?

DNA kits

You’ve seen these advertisements on TV. Get one of these DNA kits, give them a sample of your DNA along with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and mail it to one of the DNA testing companies. Wait some time, and they send back information about your ancestry, potential diseases, and other information.

There seems to be a strange belief that if these DNA kits say you’re 28% German, or 37% Italian, or 13% Japanese, it speaks the truth. Anecdotally, I’ve had boatloads of friends get this test done, and they take pride in their new or confirmed ethnicity. And I won’t even go into the scares some have had from the presumptive medical diagnoses made from some genetic marker found in the result.

We’re going to focus on the ethnic testing aspect of these DNA kits. But without a doubt, there’s a lot of concern out there about those tests leading to inaccurate medical diagnoses. Many genetic diseases, like diabetes, don’t have a purely genetic cause, but generally there’s a combination of genetic and environmental basis.

23andMe, one of the leading companies in mail order DNA kits, has had a roller-coaster relationship with US FDA. After all of the back and forth, the FDA has stated that 23andMe can market their tests for genetic testing, but cannot market them as diagnostic tests. I’m not sure the public will see the difference in that.

However, I’m going to focus on what bothers me about these tests – they are becoming the basis of some kind of scientific racism. We are highlighting, and sometimes misrepresenting, patterns of differences in human species by a sampling of genes.

Let’s take a look at these DNA kits – how they do the testing. How they determine these racial/ethnical characterization. And how one should interpret the results. Continue reading “DNA kits by mail order – accuracy of determining your ancestry?”