Should you get your DNA tested? Experts have their say

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Is it worthwhile to know you’re 25% Irish? from www.shutterstock.comAlexandra Hansen, The Conversation

With the advent of online ancestry DNA testing, and advancements in genetic screening for various medical aliments, we’re able to know more than ever about the genes that make us who we are.

But is there a point to knowing we’re 25 per cent Irish? And is there a point to knowing we could one day be struck down with a disease we’re unable to prevent?

We asked five experts if we should consider a DNA test.

Four out of five experts said yes

Here are their detailed responses:

David Kirchhoffer – Ethicist
Yes, but only if you understand and accept all the risks, the benefits are important enough, and you have competent specialist support. Risks include:

– inaccurate findings
– genetic risks that might never eventuate
– findings about diseases you can do nothing about
– findings that you weren’t expecting (for example about parentage)
– findings that may affect relatives who may not want to know
– the use of genetic information to your detriment, for example by employers, governments, health insurers
– crossovers between forensic and scientific databases that could implicate you in a crime.

Consider DNA testing if you meet criteria that recommend screening (like age or family history), you have symptoms that suggest a genetic cause (even if only to exclude it), and there is some realistic therapy available. Given the complexity of the issue, each case should be carefully considered. Not all DNA tests are equal, necessary, or even useful.

Jane Tiller – Public Health Genomics
Yes, so long as you know the implications, limitations and risks involved. Genetic testing can save lives, assist with disease prevention, answer diagnostic questions, provide insights into medication responses, and be a tool for discovering ancestry information. Genomic technology is advancing rapidly and the increase in genomic understanding is breathtaking. But genetic testing isn’t a crystal ball, is not determinative of all health outcomes, and isn’t always reliable.

There are many types of genetic tests, and you need to understand what a specific test can and can’t tell you. Further, there are implications of learning your genetic information, such as discrimination by life insurers and privacy implications, which you need to be aware of. If the genetic testing is accurate and reliable, the results will be explained to you by a genetics professional. If you understand and have thought through the limitations and risks, testing may be beneficial.

Julian Savulescu – Biomedical Ethics
Yes, knowledge is power. Genes don’t determine who we are – but they play an important part. Genetic testing can tell you whether you are at risk of disease, like some breast or bowel cancer, and you can take steps to prevent it. Or if you can’t, say you find you are at increased risk of dementia, you can make career, family, retirement, and other plans around the reality of your own life, not some imagined fiction. You can choose to use prenatal or embryo testing to have children who don’t have the same risks as you, or others.

Ancestry testing uncovers your broader family and shows how linked we are to people all over the world. In the future, polygenic testing will give better estimates of talents and personality, the opportunities and constraints on our lives. Power can be used for good, or misused. Genetic testing requires understanding and proper counselling. And genetic knowledge can be used to restrict freedom. But it can be liberating – freedom is choosing to set your own rules within the limits of your life.

Martin Delatycki – Genetic Researcher
Genetic testing is incredibly powerful in the right situations. If you have symptoms of a genetic disorder, testing can pinpoint the cause. If you have a family member with a genetic condition, testing can identify if you are at risk. For example if your parent has a mutation in a cancer gene you can be tested and if you have the mutation you can take steps to detect or prevent cancer.

Carrier screening can provide couples with information about potential genetic conditions in future children; reproductive options including IVF are available to avoid having a child with those conditions.

What about broad testing in the absence of any of the above scenarios? Such testing can be useful but needs to be approached with caution. Do you want to know if you have a mutation that means you will develop Alzheimer disease in your 40s or 50s and for which there is no preventive treatment?

Sylvia Metcalfe – Biochemistry Professor
No, not unless you are very convinced the company providing the test is reputable and can give you accurate information underpinned by scientific evidence. Be wary of how companies market their tests – some of their claims are very overstated. And many companies interpret the same result differently, which is worrying. This can be the case for tests marketed for ancestry, characteristics such as personality, as well as for medical, including health and wellness. Usually it’s because the evidence from different studies is not always the same, as we don’t yet know enough about all the DNA variations in our genome.

Someone with medical symptoms should consult a doctor, who can order DNA tests if necessary or refer on. While ancestry DNA testing can tell you about genetic relatives, much of the information about percentage ethnicity is too variable and often not useful. It’s also important to consider the terms and conditions under which you mail your sample to a company – they might onsell your DNA data.


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: [email protected]

None of the authors have any interests or affiliations to declare.The Conversation

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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11 Comments

Total Comments: 11
  1. 0
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    If I had a DNA test done for Genetic abnormalities prior to 2013, I would not now have permanently paralyzed left vocal fold. I would still have had to have radiotherapy I would still have to have six-monthly CT scans, I would still be able to speak, sing and shout, none of which I am now able to do.

    So yes, I am in favour of DNA tests

    I am interested in Genealogy, butI did not know any of my father’ relatives until I had an Ancestry DNA test. Through that, I have discovered a heap of cousins via my father’s brothers and sisters. none of whom were aware of my father as all of his brothers and sisters are long dead, as he is. So yes, Ancestry DNA is good too.

  2. 0
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    On a personal note, often family DNA can be quite interesting – but I have serious reservations about any ‘right’ of employers etc to use such things in determining a person’s ‘suitability’ etc for employment. same with health insurance – they are, after all, by their own choice, in an insurance industry – and thus they accept at the onset that there is always a chance of anything occurring… it is hardly fair that they be given carte blanche to stack the deck in advance, especially when any ‘genetic pre-disposition’ may or may not eventuate. As for governments, the less they know about you the better, given their track record.

    • 0
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      I want to know why my father and I and several members of family have ‘olive skin’, while others are pale whales… and why I have a nice epicanthic fold… multi-generational Australian, BTW… and the gold fields in some cases… hmmm.. Chinese great-g? I’ll make a land claim… get in before this place becomes Austrochine…

  3. 0
    0

    First of all you won’t say Happy Australia Day. How ridiculous. We live in the best country in the world. Happy Australia Day to all.
    Re DNA I have done it for family history interest and so has a few members of my family. Its very interesting

    • 0
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      And a very Happy Australia to you Leo, and everyone else in this great land. I agree with you Leo, after all it’s a wish for ALL Australians.

    • 0
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      Right on, Radical Brothers and Sisters – how odd that the majority who simply want things left alone are the ones vilified and demeaned – we are the Radicals…. it seems..

      Happy Australia Day to ALL Australians – event those mired in the demos and such – we still care for you… and we don’t care if you call us hate names etc just for breathing your air…

  4. 0
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    I was adopted as an infant and was never bothered about my genetic family. However, 2 of my sons had their DNA tested and I have discovered a half sister and half brother I never knew I had. It’s really fun I must admit.

  5. 0
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    I had DNA test done through My Heritage. Very surprised that nothing came up for mý Franternal
    Grandparents, place of birth. Which l know should have Been Malta and Spain. I am not adopted.
    So think carefully before taking one. It was a waste of money in my case, and very hard to get access to the data. Very suss.

    • 0
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      My wife and I both had our DNA tested. My wife’s family (on paternal side) have been traced back to 1214. Family oral and written records went back to the fourteen hundreds and the DNA test showed the same people back to our records and then went back another 200 years!

      On my side we could trace my father’s maternal side to the 1400’s and as far back as my father. I was discussing the results with my younger sister and brother and they were amazed that the person they considered their grandfather was nor their grandfather.

      They asked me why I had never told them before and I could only reply “I thought you knew”. They had a laugh as our grandmother was a very straight laced woman.

      It is interesting to do the research, if you have the time.

  6. 0
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    I agree`with the professor, and I would be concerned once your DNA is collected who will have access to it. I don’t see why you need to know your ancestry it does not make any difference to me, I like to live in the now and not the past. You are your own person not your ancestors.
    Hey Trebor what’s with the girl photo? are you being a dirty old man?

  7. 0
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    SMMM – I am with you – a complete waste of time. My father’s paternal line we have traced back to 15 century in France. He also has Swiss. His mother was English/Scottish. The results came back 98% Great Britain & Ireland with 2% Europe Sth. When I queried the results with “Living DNA”, they apparently rely on ‘markers’ ie. other people who have also done DNA tests. To quote: Our algorithm will attempt to match you directly to a population or region. Sometimes we may not have a reference sample and in some areas we may have a low sample size for the region, or it could be that there is a further population structure within that population/region that makes it near impossible for our our algorithm to match you to a region”. Obviously a more popular one like Ancestry DNA could be more accurate. We were very disappointed with “Living DNA”.


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