Many DNA databases, including Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage DNA, have family search features, which match your DNA with that of potential relatives. These features help users searching for family, including adoptees and children conceived through sperm donations. Almost every DNA testing service we interviewed for this article had a story ready about how its service facilitated a heartwarming family reunion. Like these from Ancestry, this one from MyHeritage and this one from 23andMe. Because many DNA services also have resources like family tree builders, the tests work in tandem with genealogical research.
It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”
In fairness to 23andME, it leaves it up to the customer to unlock the more serious results – or not. When I unlock mine, I discover that, while I’m not genetically predisposed to such things as the BRAC1 or BRAC2 variant, Parkinson’s or MS, I have one of the variants for late-onset (mid-80s) Alzheimer’s. However, I don’t have any other markers for Alzheimer’s or family history or conditions associated with it or anything else listed in the rather lengthy disclaimer, which also stresses that it’s not a diagnostic result and to seek further advice from your GP if you are concerned.
The DNA tests we reviewed either require a saliva or cheek cell sample. Saliva-collecting kits include a tube that’s marked with a fill line and sample number. The tube often has a liquid-filled cap with a stabilizer that acts as a preservative to protect your DNA from degradation during transport. Cheek swab sample kits include one or two swabs for scraping the insides of your cheeks for 30 seconds to a minute to collect cheek cells and some sort of container to place the used swabs into after collection. This prevents contamination. Our testers found upsides to both types of kits but generally preferred saliva collection kits, even though they took longer.
Otherwise, the home-testing kits could be said to fit in with our increasingly health-conscious and, if you wish to be cynical, narcissistic times. What says you’re “special” more than finding out everything about yourself, right down to the nitty-gritty of genetics? In this way, these kits could be viewed as the latest plaything of the “worried well”. You could see how the scientific approach would appeal to the health-obsessed of all sexes and ages, your marathon runners and serious gym-goers, who take their fitness extremely seriously.