SENDING YOUR BODILY fluids off to online DNA testing centres probably won’t bring you any closer to solving the mysteries in your family tree, according to an undercover investigation.
Computer magazine, Which? Computing, skeptically put several online DNA ancestor mapping services to the test, and to say they got some ‘genetic variations’ in the results would be putting it rather mildly.
Paying between £75 and £510 a whack, one male volunteer’s DNA sample was sent to various companies who, in return for the cash, promised to send back a scrappy piece of paper revealing all there was to know about the samplers’ ancestry and rich, cultured heritage.
One of the companies, 23andMe, a ‘personal genomics startup’ which promises personal analysis of nearly 600,000 genetic variations linked to disease and other things, like ancestry, height, and eye colour, seemed a bit reluctant to commit itself to a clear cut result, saying the DNA sample came “from somebody of Polish, Arab or Irish decent”. Narrows it down a bit, to be sure.
Two other companies DNA Solutions and Oxford Ancestors came up with different results for the same genetic sample, a great scientific feat, considering that one’s DNA is a pretty unique blueprint.
As if being a total waste of money and completely inaccurate wasn’t enough, Which? Computing also reckoned that the privacy clauses in the small print held some serious flaws. For example, the firms reserved the right to store samples of DNA for up to 20 years, share data with other organisations that conduct similar research (*cough*, pharmaceuticals, *cough*) and share results online. Since there isn’t yet a code of practice or regulatory body in place for this kind of DNA testing, its pretty much anyone’s bet what a sample could in fact be used for.
The editor of Which? Computing, Sarah Kid-you-not Kidner, warned “people need to be wary of DNA testing services. It’s unlikely that any of the information we received would help in researching a family tree. In fact, the results are so vague it’s almost the equivalent of telling someone what their star sign is.”
In short, if you’re going to cough up £510 for a little kit that asks you to kindly gob in a plastic bottle, send it off, and expect enlighteningly accurate results, then may we politely suggest you contemplate adding a healthy dose of chlorine to your gene pool? µ