Can we really trust at home DNA tests?

DNA (c) Mohamed Hassan (CC0 1.0)

How does it work?

With migration becoming more and more common, people have been losing touch with their ancestral roots and have begun to wonder about the origins of their families. One popular way that people do this is by buying online DNA tests, and mailing their saliva or blood samples to labs. These lab companies will then digitize your genetic codes which will look like long strings of the C,T,G and A bases. To the regular eyes these codes may seem like nothing other than a bunch of letters but in reality they are what makes you unique from everyone else because no one has the same variation as you.

Ancestry

After the code from your sample is  digitized, the engineers and biologists who work for these companies use algorithms to somehow spot patterns and identify what parts of the world your genes are most commonly related to. The only problem with this is that these companies have more detailed information about certain populations such as European rather than others such as Native American. That’s why they can’t precisely determine the ancestry of their costumers, but they can give them a certain percentage of probability.

Health

Health (c) Mohamed Hassan (CC0 1.0)

Furthermore, companies, such as 23andMe, don’t only identify where your ancestors came from but they also have tests to evaluate the condition of people’s health. The results of these tests show consumers what illnesses they might possibly have or what illnesses they could develop in the future. These companies even claim to help these individuals improve their health by recommending them a better diet and other health-improving actions, which are, however, not individualized. In my opinion, even though finding out what diseases you might catch in the future sounds cool, I still don’t think the standard healthy lifestyle advice that they give is worth the hundreds of dollars.

In addition, other companies, such as TeloYears, take blood samples and measure the lengths of your telomeres, which are caps located at each end of your chromosomes. Telomeres can also be viewed as the helmets which protect your DNA. It is also known that as you age those telomeres become shorter. This happens because as you grow older your cells divide and your DNA replicates itself. By measuring the lengths of the telomeres of their costumers, TeloYears finds the average length and report this as your “cellular age”. When you receive your results you are also given a scale that is created based on the telomeres of others similar to you. You can use this scale to see if you fall within their expected, better or improvable range. After you find your place on this scale, you are then given a personalized lifestyle improvement plan. This system seems to be a much better and more legitimate way of helping costumers get healthy.

Is it worth the craze?

Overall, I think that the fast paced speed of the advancement of technology and all the positive things that come with it are incredible. Although I believe that these DNA tests are going to become useful parts of the lives of those who feel the need to find their roots and for those who are looking to lead healthier lives, I feel that due to uncertainty of the results we should wait for the better updates before spending our money on it.

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