Update: Guardian Liberty Voice has been advised of an incorrect statement in this article. It had been previously reported that the company, 23andMe, had been ordered to stop selling its genetic testing services by the FDA. GLV has learned that the company has discontinued new consumer access to health-related genetic testing while awaiting FDA approval. This article has been updated below with the correct information.
Genealogy services are expanding and people who are searching for lost biological family members are increasingly finding success. With the advent of genetic technology that allows sequencing a large amount of DNA very quickly at low cost, it is now possible for someone to pay to have their own genomes sequenced. There are als DNA databases that keep track of the DNA sequences from individuals that have submitted their DNA for testing. The genealogy service companies, such as 23andMe, Ancestry.com and Family Tree DNA use the DNA sequence databases to search for matches that might indicate biological relatedness.
The journal The Scientist published an article recently detailing how the market for genealogy services is expanding. The genealogy service companies are carrying out massive advertising campaigns and consumers are responding. There are many services to choose from and the least expensive is $99. In order to partake of this service to search for relatives or ancestors one needs to provide a DNA sample. This is obtained very easily and painlessly by swabbing the mouth with a cotton wrapped stick or spitting into a tube and then sending the stick or tube into the company. DNA can be extracted from a very small biological sample.
These genealogy services do not provide genetic information for medical purposes, but only about ancestry and relatedness. The company 23andMe was providing genetic information to individuals in the past, however, many in the scientific community raised concerns about this because there was no accompanying advice from medical personnel. People were receiving genetic information that needed interpretation which was not included in the service. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter in 2013 regarding this practice. As a result, 23andMe “agreed to discontinue new consumer access to health-related genetic tests” until receiving approval by the FDA. The company continues offering its Personal Genome Service which includes ancestry information and raw health data without interpretation.
According to 23andMe, it “is working closely with the FDA to prove the clinical accuracy of the reports. Some health-related results may become available in the future as specific reports receive FDA marketing authorization.” However, the company is not speculating on the timing of this or commenting on the ongoing dialog regarding this process.
It is not just professional genealogists who use these expanded online services, with individuals in the general public using them to learn about their ancestry. This requires learning about DNA and genetics in order to understand the information provided by the service. Many people are becoming educated about genetics as a result.
Since the genetics behind the transmission of many traits is often not straightforward it can be frustrating to try to understand the genealogy results and interpret the findings. People are absolutely fascinated with eye color and most families have discussed which relatives have blue eyes or brown, for example, often trying to predict what eye color an expected child will have. Even though brown eyes are dominant and blue eyes are recessive is a fairly well-known fact, the actual genetics of eye color are much more complicated, making interpreting genealogy results for even that basic trait daunting.
In using these services many will find lost families members or learn interesting facts about their ancestry. Some, however, may be disappointed by what they learn. In any case, genealogy services continue to expand and more people are successfully using the services to search for answers to family mysteries.
By Margaret Lutze