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Several important concerns surround home DNA testing.

The perils of home DNA testing

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Home DNA testing has shown considerable consumer interest in the last few years. Popular companies for home DNA testing include and 23andMe in the US, MapMyGenome in India, and 23Mofang in China. People are curious about their ancestry, genetic makeup, or their genetic susceptibility to disease. Home DNA kits offer an easy way to answer some of these important questions. A simple saliva swab needs to be sent to a lab and results are made available in a few weeks time.

Results from home DNA tests can provide information on ancestral composition including the origin of your maternal and paternal ancestors. Such testing can also provide health risk reports related to your genetic disposition. This includes certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other medical conditions. These tests certainly provide useful information but there are several important things to consider before you send them your saliva swab.

Limited accuracy

DNA testing is not accurate. They are not a replacement for lab testing and DNA tests may not provide all the information. For example, DNA tests do not account for environmental factors or your personal health history, both of which can increase your risk of the condition. So, even if the DNA test result say you have a low risk for a certain condition, your actual risk for the condition may be different. You should not make medical decisions just on the basis of DNA test results. DNA testing companies may not be making this clear.

Sharing of family’s DNA

You and your family share DNA. By making your DNA available to companies, you are also sharing partial DNA of your family members, most likely, without their consent. Since DNA is personally identifiable, this makes you and your family susceptible to being tracked. While there are laws that may prevent the sharing of DNA data, these laws vary widely across countries and may not cover all aspects related to the sharing of DNA data.

DNA data privacy

Many DNA testing companies have received investments from pharma companies. Some of these companies openly share DNA data with pharma companies for research. For example, 23andMe shares anonymized DNA data with the consent of the person providing the DNA sample. While this could be useful for drug development, this could be problematic because now you have to rely on several entities to protect your data. This data could be requested by law enforcement or court orders. Worst, hackers could steal your data from any of the companies.

The unexpected

People have found unexpected things from DNA tests. Genetic tests can also serve as a parental test. Some people have ended up discovering “new facts” about their parents or even their children. Unfortunately, such DNA test surprises are may happen often.

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