The Virginia Commonwealth University Life Science Center has released the results of the VCU Life Sciences Survey and I thought I’d share some of the interesting results.
The most surprising result of the survey is that 80% of surveyed adults favor making genetic testing â€œeasily available to all who want it,â€ similar to values in 2001 and 2004.Â Donâ€™t tell this to the New York and California Departments of Health!
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
54% of adults believe that the benefits of genetic testing outweigh the risks, while 25% believe that the risks outweigh the benefits.Â Itâ€™s interesting to see the education breakdown of this question.Â 44% of people with a high school degree or less believe that benefits outweigh risks, compared to 67% of people with a college degree or more.Â And 29% of people with a high school degree or less believe that risks outweigh benefits, compared to 20% of those with a college degree or more.
I’m currently in the middle of third-year law school exams, so I thought I’d do a round-up of all the interesting stories I’ve seen over the past week or two.
Holiday Specials on DNA Testing
First, it appears that most of the major genetic genealogy companies are offering special deals for the holidays:
Family Tree DNA announces a holiday sale – FTDNA is offering reducing pricing for customers who are part of or join a DNA project. For example, a 37-marker Y-DNA test is reduced to $119, down from $149.
Ancestry.com announces holiday sale – buy a DNA test between now and December 31st, and you’ll receive 40% off. For example, a 33-marker Y-DNA test is $89.40 (usually $149) and their mtDNA test is $107.40 (usually $179).
A new article in Ancestry Magazine, “Meeting My New Family,” details a recent meeting of genetic relatives in Chicago.Â The author is Howard Wolinsky, who has written other articles in the field of genetic genealogy (see, for example, an article in EMBO about 2 years ago).Â As Howard describes, the meeting wasn’t a traditional family reunion:
“We are a new kind of cousin. Until a few days ago, we were strangers who just happened to have had our DNA analyzed. Then we discovered we matched one another to varying degrees. Most of us have common Jewish connections. And we learned that we come from relatively rare branches of the human DNA tree. Our mothersâ€™ mothers came from the HV branch. Our fathersâ€™ fathers came from the G group.”
Similar to a move made by myHeritage a few weeks ago, Familybuilder has announced that it will offer genetic genealogy testing to its customers.Â As part of the launch of this new product, Familybuilder is offering both Y-DNA and mtDNA tests for only $59.95 until January 1.Â After that, the price will be $89.95
Based on the demo account, it looks like the Y-DNA test includes 17 markers.Â Although this isn’t many markers, $3.52 per marker is a great price.
Familybuilder is planning to continue to develop their genetic genealogy offering: “Currently in development is the ability to create Groups around surnames, families, and other criteria as well as the ability to Compare DNA.”Â From the press release:
â€œUp to now, genealogical DNA testing for the masses has been cost-prohibitive,â€ said David Rheins, CMO of Familybuilder.Â â€œWe are excited about the launch of Familybuilder DNA, and believe that this tool will help millions of consumers better understand the origins of their heritage and ancestry. We are very focused on developing the Familybuilder DNA product line, and have plans to roll out additional tests and future functionality, including the ability to search our DNA database to identify living relatives with whom you share DNA.â€
Family Tree DNA has a new issue of Facts & Genes available on their website.Â If you didn’t receive this newsletter but would like to receive it in the future, you can register here.
I especially like the “Case Study in Genetic Genealogy”, which is reprinted in full below.Â I, like others, sometimes jump too quickly to the conclusion that there has been a non-paternal event in a line.
Case Study in Genetic Genealogy
When I [“I” being a hypothetic someone who has tested through a genetic genealogy company] first tested, I had no matches with my surname, and a match with another surname. I was told that there was an event in the past, breaking the link of the Y chromosome and the surname – an illegitimacy.
“With close to 220,000 records, FamilyTreeDNA is the largest database of genealogic DNA information in the world. This provides the perfect complement to MyHeritage’s current research tools, giving our members another way to learn about where they come from,” said Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “We help people around the world discover, connect and communicate with their extended family network and easily research their family history. Now, by working with FamilyTreeDNA, we can offer a solution when the paper trail runs out.”
Security of genetic information is an enormous concern for individuals, and thus an enormous concern facing commercial genetic enterprises.Â I was recently having a conversation with someone about the security of genetic and personal information at companies such as 23andMe and Navigenics, and I pointed out that the very livelihood of these organizations depends on their ability to secure information.Â A single security breach could potentially drive away future customers.
“With a credit card and a saliva sample, consumers can now unlock the secrets carried in their DNA. Consumer genomics offers direct access to one’s genetic code, plus interpretations of health risks, family lineage, opportunities for social networking, and more. But how should consumer genomics be regulated? Join us for a panel discussion with leaders at the forefront of consumer genomics (23andme and Navigenics), media commentators (Alexis Madrigal from Wired), and policy makers.”
Let me start my analysis by clearly pointing out my personal positions:
After years of experience in this field, I am a proponent of genetic genealogy testing, a scientific endeavor that has been utilized by as many as 500,000 to 800,000 customers.
I believe that education, not more government regulation, is the most efficient and appropriate answer to the issues raised by the authors of the paper.
I believe that autosomal genetic genealogy testing is in its infancy and should only be used with the understanding that the results are only extremely rough estimates that are subject to change as the field develops.
With those personal positions in mind, and after reviewing the paper, I have a number of general concerns with the paper’s conclusions:
“What is genetic ancestry and how does it relate to race and ethnicity? The development of increasingly cost effective genomic sequencing technologies and public interest in genetic ancestry has led to a dramatic flourishing of direct-to-consumer products and new approaches to biomedical research. In this session, panelists define the contours of this emerging landscape and explore the commercial, biomedical, social and ethical implications of this burgeoning category of genomic application. Panelists consider the following questions: What genetic ancestry information is available to consumers? How is genetic ancestry used in biomedical research? What implications do genetic approaches to ancestry have on social identity? What ethical and policy issues must be addressed in this changing landscape? Panelists provide perspectives from industry, medicine, cultural studies, and bioethics.”