Sunday, 21 November 2004

Product: Personal Genetic Testing

Product: Personal Genetic Testing

A number of companies now offer genetic ancestry tests to individuals. These tests can determine paternal ancestry via Y Chromosome, maternal ancestry via mtDNA, or biogeographic ancestry via multiple autosomal Ancestry Informative Markers.

AncestryByDNA has two tests, one for continental ancestry (Indo-European, Subsaharan African, East Asian, Native American; ABD2.5), and one for European specific ancestral groups (Nordic, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian; Euro1.0). The ancestral groups determined by these tests generally correspond to popular ideas of race and ethnicity, but not always. Test results are based on statistical affinity to predefined population models, and are given with probability estimates. For instance, a self-identified White American might find they are 90% likely to be 95% Indo-European, 3% Subsaharan African, and 2% Native American.

Can people handle the ambiguity of slight continental mixture and fuzzy certainty of identity, or will this kind of information shake up the ubiquitous 19th-20th century ideas of nationalism and racism as identity? Perhaps, along with the rise of people of mixed ancestry, and whole ethnic identities (Latino in particular) that are multi-racial or defy description by traditional categories.

Companies that test nonrecombining sites (Y Chromosome and mtDNA) include Family Tree DNA. These tests are more precise (results are virtually certain rather than probable), but give much less information. Instead of testing a wide ranging diagnostic sample of DNA markers, these tests look at one site each. These are very useful for determining specific lines of descent, but not overall ancestry.

Similar forensic tests of biogeographic ancestry are available to police departments from DNAPrint, including DNAWitness, which gives a range of facial features associated with genetic profiles.

These tests are only the first of many personal genetic tests, with and without medical relevance, that will be offered to the public and used by private corporations and government agencies in years to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment