The falling cost and rapid development of DNA technology has turned genetic tests like those offered by 23andMe into affordable Christmas gifts (as long as you’re sure who your family really are…)
The next frontier is direct-to-consumer whole genome sequencing, as we heard from genetics pioneer George Church in a previous podcast. But given how little we know about how variations in the genome translate into effects on health and disease-not to mention the challenges of analysis and interpretation of whole genome sequences-is this really a good idea?
To find out, geneticist Kat Arney speaks with four people who had their whole genomes sequenced by direct-to-consumer company Veritas as part of the LOVE MY GENOME project.
All the participants in the project had a personal or professional interest in genetics and wanted to dive into their genomes in more detail. But while some had reassuring or even quite boring results, the information was potentially devastating for others.
- Helen O’Neill, a molecular geneticist from UCL and identical twin, discovered some important information about how her body breaks down drugs, which explained why she should never have been prescribed a medicine that caused her unpleasant side effects.
- Jess Buxton, a senior lecturer in medical genetics at Kingston University, London, was relieved to discover that she didn’t carry a mutation in any of the genes currently linked to breast cancer—the disease that killed her mother.
- Biotech advisor Ayokunmi Ajetunmobi was disappointed to find that most of the genetic associations in his genome report weren’t relevant to his ancestry.
- LOVE MY GENOME organizer Alan Thornhill from diagnostic genetics company IGENOMIX discovered some unexpected news that could have a significant impact on his children, who had previously lost their mother to cancer.
Kat also talks to Marc Haber, an expert in ancient DNA analysis at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK. He’s been looking back more than 4,000 years to understand the genetics of his own ancestors – the biblical Canaanites who lived in what’s now modern-day Lebanon.
Genetics Unzipped is presented by award-winning science communicator and biologist Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media for the UK Genetics Society. Follow Kat on Twitter @Kat_Arney and Genetics Unzipped @geneticsunzip