TO YOUR HEALTH
These days, DNA evidence applies well beyond the courtroom. Every day thousands of Americans readily mail their
own spit, cheek swabs or stool samples to companies like
23andMe, MyHeritage or AncestryDNA, hoping to learn
more about their family history, hereditary traits or other
burning issues of existence. And the competition for your
spit is fierce. Open a magazine or change the TV channel
and you’ll likely encounter an advertisement for at-home
genetic tests. People use such kits to pinpoint ethnic origins
that might help explain their own pasta addiction or fondness for kilt wearing, to track down relatives or to verify
that Fido is indeed a purebred (yes, dog DNA kits also exist).
And, increasingly, companies are claiming that understanding your DNA profile can help further your own well-being.
Not surprisingly, some of those companies are located in
the Bay Area. San Francisco–based Vitagene offers to analyze
how ancestry affects personal nutrition and health, claiming
that its methodology “leverages big data, machine learning,
and the latest scientific research and technology” to devise
a client-specific diet and fitness plan. Another company,
GenoPalate, employs geneticists and registered dietitians to
examine genetic profiles and give targeted nutritional advice.
Most of these tests study DNA extracted from saliva; others,
WHO OWNS YOUR DNA?
like San Francisco’s uBiome, get a bit more intimate, study-
ing mailed-in vaginal swabs and fecal samples to produce
information about a customer’s microbiome (the full genetic
complement of bacteria and other microorganisms in a body)
and assess gut or vaginal health.
So is it worth it? In a 2018 Women’s Health magazine
interview, Dr. Leo Treyzon, a gastroenterologist at L. A.’s
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says that while uBiome and
other purveyors of at-home testing kits can help people take
their health into their own hands, the data provided isn’t
very insightful yet. “In 2018 we can look at your gut and give
you data on it, but the research on what you can actually do
with those results isn’t actually there,” he maintains.
Even so, DNA products keep appearing on the market.
In October 2018, Mountain View–based 23andMe gained
an advantage over its competition when the FDA approved
a test it uses that examines how the body processes medica-
tions, including drugs addressing depression. (Before then,
the company was already offering screenings for some of the
genes involved in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and breast can-
cer, in addition to ancestry-tracing services.) The day after
that green light, the FDA seemed to backpedal, stressing
that patients and their doctors should not make treatment
decisions based on such testing in lieu of medical lab work
Regardless of whether you’ve mailed anyone a sample,
there’s a good chance you’re already part of a genetic data-
base, or at least part of you is. According to a February 2018
ANCES TR Y DNA ONLY ALL MAJOR TES TING COMPANIES
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
A RISING TREND
Total number of people tested by consumer genetics companies, in millions.
ISOGG, LEAH LARKIN, COMPANY REPORTS