This weekend I wrote about an article that appeared in LifeScience entitled â€œDNA Kits: Secrets of Your Past or Scientific Scam?â€ The article made some strong negative statements about genetic genealogy, and I took the opportunity to discuss the issues it raised.
Soon after, my concerns were echoed at Anthropology.net in “Anthropologist Meredith Small says DNA testing is a scam.” The author had many of the same concerns, and also attempted to explain the science behind the tests.
If you’re interested in learning more about the science, or furthering the discussion we’ve started, please feel free to leave a comment here or at Anthropology.net.
Dr. Moran at Sandwalk brought to my attention a recent segment about genetic genealogy on Marketplace called â€œWhoâ€™s Your Grand Daddy?â€Marketplace is a Canadian television program.In his post, Dr. Moran states:
â€œI’m disturbed by the fact that we have a number of prominent bloggers pushing DNA testing. You’d think they would be all over this story. You’d think that they would be in the front lines in the attack on unscrupulous private companies who are overselling the idea of tracing your ancestors through your DNA.If you thought that you’d be wrong. Some of these bloggers are even denying there’s a problem.â€
During the Marketplace segment, Johnna – a woman they interview who is interested in learning more about her ancestry – discovers that she belongs to Haplogroup H.Unfortunately, Johnna had expected to learn more about her ancestry, such as the names of ancestors.It would appear that Johnna did not do any research about genetic genealogy.
I honestly don’t know what to do with this next article. Meredith F. Small Ph.D., an anthropologist at Cornell University, wrote a brief article at LiveScience entitled “DNA Kits: Secrets of Your Past or Scientific Scam?” Dr. Small’s article is largely a comment on the article that appeared earlier this fall in Science, “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing” (I provided an analysis of the article here at TGG).
According to Dr. Small:
“[The quest for identity] also leads unwary seekers of the past right into the hands of scam artists who claim they can trace anyone’s DNA back to its source.”
The sentence is extremely misleading:
First – a scam artist is by definition a person who engages in a “fraudulent business scheme.” Although genetic genealogy can be controversial, I’ve never heard a single customer accuse a company of running a scam. To the best of my knowledge, these testing companies are using the best science available to test DNA and compare results to their databases. Are physicians running a scam if they use open-heart surgery to fix a heart, rather than a simple pill that will be invented in 5 years? All technology is based on the best developed science right now. A company might have a limited database or only test a limited number of markers, but this does not qualify them as running a “scam.”
Andy Sullivan is a general-assignment reporter for Reuters and just wrote “DNA Tests Don’t Always Help Uncover Family.” The article discusses his recent experience with genetic genealogy, including a Y-DNA and mtDNA test from DNA Ancestry.
Although the article is a little light on the genetic genealogy and incorporates a discussion of an online genealogy database, it is always interesting to read an article by someone who has just been tested. As I was reading the article, the following paragraph jumped out of the page and slapped me in the face:
“These tests promise to reveal long-lost relatives, uncover roots obscured by slavery, or simply allow those curious about where they came from to skip all that tedious digging.”
[This is a repost of an article that appeared on May 29, 2007. Since Iâ€™m knee-deep in final projects and exams, I thought Iâ€™d pull out a popular article from the archives. I hope you enjoy it (again)]:
In Part I, Part II, and Part III of the â€œYou and the $1000 Genomeâ€ series weâ€™ve examined the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the International HapMap Project, and the ethical issues associated with both. In this final installment of the series we will examine the potential impact of genomic or SNP sequencing and interpretation on both medicine and genealogy (finally, some genealogy for you patient genealogists out there!).
I believe that whole genome sequencing will have myriad uses. In the paper mentioned in Part III of the series (John A. Robertson, â€œThe $1000 Genome: Ethical and Legal Issues in Whole Genome Sequencing of Individuals (pdf).â€ 2003 The American Journal of Bioethics 3(3):InFocus), Mr. Robertson suggests that demand for personal genome sequencing outside of the medical context could be quite limited. But that view might fail to take into account uses of genomic information other than identifying or predicting disease, such as the genetic genealogy setting. Very few could have predicted 10 years ago that thousands of genealogists would be submitting their DNA for limited sequencing as they are doing today. If information from whole genome sequencing can be used to analyze genealogy (which it surely will be), then this will create an entire niche that will increase commercial demand outside of the medical context. And this is only one such niche. There might be many many more, some of which will only develop after whole genome sequencing becomes economically available.
[This is a repost of an article that appeared on May 26, 2007. Since Iâ€™m knee-deep in final projects and exams, I thought Iâ€™d pull out a popular article from the archives. I hope you enjoy it (again)]:
In Part I and Part II of the â€œYou and the $1000 Genomeâ€ series we examined the history of the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics and the success of the International HapMap Project. Today weâ€™ll talk about some of the ethical issues associated with efficient and inexpensive genome sequencing. The value of whole genome sequencing will only be realized if individuals believe they have complete and legal control over their genetic information. I am greatly indebted to a thorough analysis of this issue by John A. Robertson at the University of Texas School of Law (â€The $1000 Genome: Ethical and Legal Issues in Whole Genome Sequencing of Individuals (pdf).â€ 2003 The American Journal of Bioethics 3(3):InFocus). Note that this analysis is not intended to constitute answers to any of the ethical questions – it is only meant to be part of the discourse.
[This is a repost of an article that appeared on May 24, 2007. Since Iâ€™m knee-deep in final projects and exams, I thought Iâ€™d pull out a popular article from the archives. I hope you enjoy it (again)]:
In Part I of the â€œYou and the $1000 Genomeâ€ series we examined the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, a $10 million purse for the group that can sequence 100 genomes in 10 days for no more than $10,000/genome with an error rate below 0.001%. With todayâ€™s technology this goal is still a few years away.
But do we need an entire genomic sequence to obtain all the relevant medical information that our DNA contains? After all, 99.9% of my DNA is exactly the same as everyone elseâ€™s! Why sequence that 99.9% over and over and over if the results are the same every time? Wouldnâ€™t it be cheaper to just sequence and then decode the 0.1%?
[This is a repost of an article that appeared on May 22, 2007. Since I'm knee-deep in final projects and exams, I thought I'd pull out a popular article from the archives. I hope you enjoy it (again)]:
Over the next week and a half I will be examining the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, a challenge from the Archon X PRIZE Foundation to foster the development of efficient and inexpensive genomic sequencing. Not only will the X PRIZE for Genomics change the face of medicine, but it will also have an ENORMOUS impact on the field of genetic genealogy, which weâ€™ll discuss in Part IV of the series. Stay tuned for all the information you need to know about the prize, and if you have any thoughts or questions please leave a comment!
History of the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics:
In 2003 the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation announced a $500,000 Genomic Technology Prize that would be awarded to an the group whose technology significantly enhanced â€œthe field of high throughput DNA sequencing by enabling a human genome to be sequenced for $1,000 or less.â€ The Foundation believed that crossing this threshold would enable the majority of individuals to afford genomic sequencing as part of medical treatment.
On November 27th, the personal genome sequencing company Knome (pronounced like â€œGnomeâ€, the mythical creature) officially launched.From the companyâ€™s press release:
â€œâ€˜Whole-genome sequencing is the endgame,â€™â€ according to Mr. Conde [Knomeâ€™s CEO]. â€˜It will enable us to look at nearly 100% of your genetic code compared to the less than 0.02% currently available on SNP chips. This is the approach that most fully reveals what our genomes can tell us about ourselves.â€™â€
â€œPricing for Knomeâ€™s service will start at $350,000, including whole-genome sequencing and a comprehensive analysis from a team of leading geneticists, clinicians and bioinformaticians. This team will also provide continued support and counseling.â€