Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Challenge to home DNA ancestry testing?

Don't try this at home?
If you have not yet had your mtDNA sequenced in order to trace your family lineage all the way back to the Rift Valley of Africa 75,000 years ago (neither have I), you could face complications.

The American Food and Drug Administration has ordered 23andme, one of the leading providers of home DNA test kit services, to stop selling and marketing its services.

The problem is not that 23andme might tell you your ancestors are not who you thought they were. The problem is that the same analysis that attempts to track your ancestry can also attempt to identify genetic predispositions you may have -- to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or Huntington's. The FDA sees that as being roughly akin to practising medicine without a licence.

If 23andme tells you you have a 50% probability of having West African ancestors in the last 300 years when mom always told you the family is 100% western European, that's genealogy.  But if the same report convinces you that any children you bear have a good chance of inheriting a fatal disease, that's medical advice. When errors are surprisingly frequent and statistical probabilities can be misinterpreted, the selling of medical advice to anyone who sends in some saliva causes regulatory alarms to ring.

The FDA sees the DNA test not as an ancestry testing device but as a medical device. In a classic old-rules meets new economy smackdown, it doesn't want anyone practising medicine over the internet.

What is this gonna do to the ancestry tracing trend?  Hmmmm.

(Image from Guardian Online story here.)
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