Finding their biological parents or discovering what genetic diseases they could transmit to their children are some of the reasons why more and more people are undergoing the 23andMe genetic test, one of the many DNA tests offered by the emerging personal care sector. genomics.
Stacy and Greta, two American sisters, met thanks to a DNA test. Her cousin Laura hired the services of 23andMe, a biotechnology startup that analyzes the client’s DNA and compares it with that of other people registered in its database. Laura gave up her genome in hopes of finding her biological father. Instead, she ran into Greta, her cousin.
Companies like Genelex, Gene By Gene, InVitae or Interleukin Genetics also solve family mysteries and try to locate genetic diseases that customers could pass on to their children. For it, They perform tests that give them access to complete DNAwith all the consequences that could entail.
The business of genetics
The company’s real business is not the exams it performs for about 100 euros. As Technology Review points out, The genetic data of a 23andMe customer is worth 2,500 times more than the data that Facebook collects from a user. Since it was founded in 2006, the firm has managed to compile an extensive genetic database of nearly 600,000 people.
But the Mountain View based company has not been the only one to take advantage of this business opportunity. For a couple of years, companies have been born in the United States that They analyze the genome of clients, whether for family, research or even sports reasons.. This is the case of DNA Fit, a British company that also shows that there is a market beyond American borders.
As Andrew Steele, former Olympic athlete and current brand ambassador, tells Think Big, the company offers customers information about how their body reacts to higher and lower intensity physical activities, the time it will take for an injury to heal or the diet that best suits your body.
“We have a very wide range of clients. We work with professional and military athletes, although Our main clients are people who are trying to stay fit and want to make sure they do it right“, Explain. People who go to the gym three or four times a week and who do not trust the exercises and diets they find on the internet or discover in the media.
With permission from the FDA
A couple of months ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDAfor its acronym in English) gave the green light for 23andMe to sell a new genetic test, aimed at detecting whether a customer carries the gene associated with Bloom syndrome, a disease that, among other things, causes the skin to be hypersensitive to sunshine.
This permit has restored peace after the company was banned by US authorities in 2013. sell health related genetic tests.
According to John Conley, an expert lawyer in the personal genetics sector, the FDA distrusted (and probably still distrusts) 23andMe not so much because of what it offered or the dangers it could entail, but rather because of the information it gave to customers. It wasn’t precise enough.
Where is the privacy?
Exposing information as sensitive as the genome carries some risks. Mark Gerstein, a professor of bioinformatics at Yale University, has long investigated the dangers of giving DNA to a private company. According to the American, it is likely that in the future “much more will be known about you” and what your descendants will be like, among other things.
“The worrying thing is that once you share something on the web, you put it on a server and you can’t get it back. The information is already there.” If your data is later used for harmful purposes, “you can no longer change the genome. You can change your phone number, your credit card number… but not your genome”.
Furthermore, not all companies in the sector are equally strict when it comes to privacy. European women, due to the legal framework in which they operate, are forced to be more cautious. From DNA Fit they assure us that once the report is made and delivered to the client, they eliminate the test results: “We follow the United Kingdom protection and privacy law, so all the samples we take are destroyed at the end. What remains is a PDF with the information we obtain from the test.”
Header image: Duncan Hull (Flickr)