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Salon Article About the “Stanford’s Genetics 210″ Class Using 23andMe Testing

Discover yourself at 23andMeAt Salon, an article entitled “The college class that could reveal your real father” by Katya Cengel discusses a course at Stanford called “Genetics 210.”  The class uses [entirely optional] 23andme testing to explore the many issues associated with genetic testing.  Although the class is offered to both graduate and undergraduate students, the class is filled with mostly graduate students.

All students go through the informed consent process carefully, and have access to a genetic counselor and a psychiatrist (although according to the report not a single student has contacted the psychiatrist in the four semesters the course has been offered, and only two have contacted the genetic counselor).

The most interesting aspect of the article, to me, was the complication that identical twins pose to genetic testing.  Epigenetic differences aside (which are currently NOT tested), a genetic test for one will directly apply to the other.  So what happens when one twin wants to know and the other doesn’t?

Cengel writes:

Because the results of genetic testing can be relevant to a patient’s family members as well, the decision to test is not always a personal one. For Thomas Roos, a 27-year-old Stanford epidemiology Ph.D. student, that was especially true. Roos is an identical twin. He and his twin Andrew share the same genes, and both chose to test themselves. But if they hadn’t been in agreement on knowing their genetic details things could have gotten complicated, especially since one of the things they discovered is that they each have a variant of the apolipoprotein E gene that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

What do you think about this article?  Would you have taken a personal genomics class in college?

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

3 Comments

  1. I would have taken the Stanford’s Genetics class. I would like to know what illness I might be sussitable for acquiring. Of course, might not acquire the illness, anyway.

  2. I think that college classes which include a DNA test like 23&Me would be worthwhile. That being said, the instruction would need to include the aspect of false negative test results. 23&Me does include disclaimers on the medically significant tests, and will not give out the result(s) until the online tutorial(s) are read through. The false negative results, those that cannot be reported by the 23&Me test, can mask a very medically important result. This is where discussion with a genetic counselor would be very important.

  3. Helen – I agree completely, I would have loved to take that class.
    SDSusan – agreed, in a classroom setting there is an increased ability to interact directly with students to explain the limitations of testing, which is a good thing.

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