6 Things to Know About DNA Testing
The search for our identity – who we truly are and our relation to others – is one of the great unifying human experiences, shared by everyone on the path of self-discovery. DNA testing is now able to provide some answers for our collective fascination with ourselves as individuals. Many companies are now providing DNA testing services and the number is continuously on the rise. However, how much of the overly sensationalized media information about DNA testing is true? Here are some of the main facts to know:
1. YOUR SPIT IS THE KEY TO SELF-DISCOVERY
The first step in DNA testing is to collect some of your saliva then seal the sample in a container and mail it to the lab in a pre-labelled envelope or box. Six to eight weeks later, the results appear online. This allows you to get information about a multitude of things such as ancestry, risk factors, and allergies, all for a relatively affordable price.
2. GENETIC VARIATIONS CREATE YOUR INDIVIDUALITY
DNA testing companies search your DNA for certain genetic variants. The building blocks of DNA are called nucleotides, which come in four varieties—A, T, C, and G (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine, respectively). Altogether, this genetic information is called the genome. DNA testingcompanies determine which of the four letters is present at many locations in your genome. Much of the sequence is shared among humans, so the companies focus on specific letters that vary from person to person. These variations have biological relevance, allowing us to determine skin, hair, or eye colour and even risk factors to major diseases.
3. DNA CAN REVEAL GENETIC CONNECTIONS AND HERITAGE
Most people have a mixed heritage they are unaware about. Companies use various methods to determine ancestry. Usually, the customer’s DNA is compared to a reference which represents populations from different geographical regions. As research with a more diverse range of people, companies are better able to analyse the genome, providing more detailed ancestry information to people from all over theworld.
Companies are also able to determine our maternal and paternal lines. We inherit our mitochondria—the parts of our cells that make energy—from our mothers. Some companies offer a mitochondrial DNA test that allows you to find your maternal ancestors. Similarly, men can learn about their paternal line through the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son. Women can find their paternal haplogroup through their biological father or brother.
A home DNA test might even tell you that you’re a little bit Neanderthal, which is especially common in Caucasian and Asian people!
DNA testing services allow customers to see whether other users of the same service are biologically related. This is an added benefit for anyone assembling a detailed family tree, as well as any adoptees wondering about their biological families.
4. DNA TESTS CAN REVEAL HEALTH INFORMATION
While genetic testing might reveal your inability to detect the unique odour of asparagus pee, most people are seeking deeper information, such as whether they have genetic variants associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s or breast cancer.
DNA testing companies have been granted permission to give customers informationabout certain mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 that dramatically increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Some people with a faulty BRCA gene take precautions to prevent or detect cancerearly, including undergoing preventive double mastectomies, as Angelina Jolie famously did in 2013.
5. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN RESEARCH.
Some home DNA testing companies ask customers to participate in research, answering questions about everything from their sleep habits to their personalities. The goal is to discover previously unknown associations between genetic variants and specific traits. The more people recruited to the study, the more likely the study will be able to identify genetic factors that impact the trait or condition being studied.
6. YOU COULD EARN MONEY FROM YOUR DNA.
One company, Genos, charges $499 to sequence a customer’s entire genome, and then offers to connect them with genetic researchers. Participating research partners can offer $50 to $250 to Genos users for completing a study intended to find links between their genetic information and any trait or condition the researchers are studying, including dementia, cancer, and infectious disease.