A look at the headlines concerning genetic testing in the past year would have most people wondering if they had somehow travelled into the future.
There have been advancements like virtual drug trials and genetic IQ tests, applications of genetic testing which greatly surpass the intended use of genetic testing as a purely scientific tool, and have given it virtually limitless use in day to day life.
In February of 2018, it was revealed that the number of people who had taken consumer DNA tests had exceeded 12 million. When you factor in the increasing popularity of DNA tests as holiday gifts, with tests from Ancestry.com proving particularly popular this year and with the projected rate of increase, this figure is likely to have doubled by the time you read this article.
With this number of people taking DNA tests — and providing DNA samples for these tests to be carried out, it is suddenly apparent that DNA privacy represents a potentially contentious topic.
Consumer genetic testing: In order to more accurately discover the genetic basis of inherited disease, scientist need even more DNA tests done on even more individuals. This year, several gene hunts exceeded the pivotal one million person mark, and in the coming years, even more people are going to have their genetic code studied in order to figure out how diseases are caused and how they can be effectively managed.
In this quest, ancestry DNA testing sites such as 23andMe have been of great help to scientists. 23andMe provides the opportunity for consumers to participate in studies to help scientists figure out the genetic basis of diseases.
Polygenic scores: While it was relatively easy to determine risk factors for diseases that result from an error in a single gene, the process of risk assessment for diseases or conditions that result from a person’s entire genome was next to impossible. Until now.
In a breakthrough discovery, polygenic scores — performed by Color Genomics and 23andMe — have been shown to be able to determine the likelihood of everything from prostate cancer to if you’ll be able to make the height cut off for the NBA.
IQ tests and Embryo Testing: It has been possible to test fetuses in utero to determine if they possess certain congenital anomalies, but these new advances take this e dm further. It is now possible, with Genomic Prediction, to select the embryo with the least risk for certain diseases as well as the highest potential for intelligence.
Help With Clinical Trials: Geneticists have began to apply Mendelian randomization in the process of clinical trials, saving time and money in the study of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, or more simply put, the study of how drugs will interact with your body. The knowledge gotten from this will help reduce side effects and adverse reactions in addition to helping make drugs more effective.
Fighting Crime: DNA testing at some point was synonymous with crime scene investigations and detective shows. In recent times, with the increasing popularity of genetic testing, and the ever increasing database of genetic samples, it has never been easier to solve crime by tracing genetic material.
It has been shown that, since we pretty much all have relatives whose genetic material is part of a database already, it would be easy to trace and track down wrongdoers before they commit any more crimes.
Racial bias: In spite of these advancements, there remains a large gap between the representation of people from the European population and people of other ethnic backgrounds in genetic testing. A large percentage of data and discoveries from analysis of these DNA samples therefore, mostly apply to this population, leaving a gap to be filled if we want to truly explore all frontiers and provide the benefits of genetic research to all races. However upcoming companies like DNA Land, Xcode Life and We Gene are laying the groundwork for better representation of varied ethnic groups from across the world.