What do you have in you?

23 and Me helps people discover more about themselves

Story by Easton Cowart, Student Reporter

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Historically, people have only been able to receive genetic testing from health care professionals, and at a steep price that’s not usually covered by insurance. Today, however, anyone with an internet connection and 100 dollars can become a recipient to a multitude of genetic testing services in a matter of a few months.

These services are known as direct to consumer genetic testing, and they are helping people not only discover things about themselves, but their families and ancestors. Traditionally the only other way to learn about one’s ancestral journey to the present, has been through family tree databases on paper and online, but usually this method requires research and patience when sifting through pages upon pages of historical records.

The United States is so culturally diverse, and has been for so long, that many people have no idea what their genetic composition is. “I was always told that we had Native American Heritage in our blood,” said Greta Goslee, senior communications major.

Greta is one of the many customers of Genetic Testing services that has been shocked at their results. “Turns out I have less than one percent of anything other than European,” said Goslee. This seems to be a common occurrence, with more and more people are figuring out that their genetic composition looks very different than expected.

Along with ancestral information many of these services also include health reports that include information about health risks, and carrier status of many conditions. “I took my test to see if I was at risk for anything that I didn’t know about,” said Trivett Nettles, a parks and recreation major.

Before one would have to visit their doctor and receive a number of tests to gain the results these services provide, but now for the first time in history a person can directly get screened from these services to find out about many health factors including cancer, and diabetes.

With all of the positive news surrounding these services, there does loom some ethical dilemmas, such as the aspect of these services that catalogue your genetic information into large databases. Nettles said “I think it is the worth the lack of privacy to learn so much about yourself.” Some however feel a little less sure about this. “I think it is a little scary that they keep the samples after you get your reports.” Said Goslee.

Another extremely interesting tool that one of these services have at their disposal is the ability to see how much Neanderthal DNA one has. A Neanderthal is an ancient, extinct, human species that had robust physical characteristics, and were able to create viable offspring with humans.

Many people of European descent have found out that they share genetic variants with our ancient cousin species. “I had more Neanderthal DNA than 87 percent of other people,” said Goslee. I myself found out that I too had a higher level of shared genes with our ancient counterparts than the average person.

Although these insights do not have any practical applications, the fact that many of us have similar genetic information, as an entirely different species of human, shows us that there is a lot we don’t know about our own past.

It is apparent that as technology progresses, so too will private genetic screening services. On one hand we have the ability to easily and cheaply learn more about ourselves than we ever have in history, but the looming cloud of the lack privacy is definitely visible.

Should we embrace these services that educate so much about who we are, where we came from, and what risks do we have to deal with, or should we be wary of sending our genetic information to a private company?

Photo courtesy of wikicommons.com.
23 and Me provides users with detailed ancestral information.