With Christmas fast approaching, what better gift is there than the £125 personal genetics kit from genetics firm 23andMe?
The 23andMe Personal Genome Service (PGS) kit is said to offer UK citizens the chance to explore more about their health and ancestry……all while revealing risk factors for certain diseases and inherited conditions.
And aside from what you can learn about your health, the PGS kit also lets you discover why you may be a more frequent smoker or how your body may respond to diet and exercise.
“For a genetics kit ordered online, which relies on a saliva sample sent via post, there are bound to be concerns.
The kit, it seems, offers you the possibility to discover a whole host of personal information that could, effectively, save your life one day, and all while helping you discover relatives you didn’t know existed.
But should you proceed with caution?
The short answer: “most definitely”.
The PGS kit is undoubtedly a great leap forward for personalised genetic profiling, but for a genetics kit ordered online, which relies on a saliva sample sent via post to a laboratory, there are bound to be concerns.
Once your saliva has been analysed, your results are posted to your 23andMe online account (which you must setup prior to sending your sample).
So far so good, right?
Well, my initial reaction was: “what if someone steals my personal genetic information and uses it against me”?
It was, in hindsight, perhaps a slightly exaggerated reaction……maybe the PGS kit can uncover such irrational character traits?
Regardless, there are serious concerns about the potential to misunderstand the information provided by this type of genetic testing.
Eric Miska, at the University of Cambridge, says: “Genome sequencing is here today. Yet our understanding of the impact of genome variation on human individuality and health is in its infancy.
“Society needs to discuss how individual human genome sequences should be accessed safely and how it can be shared. 23andMe and other similar commercial services can give individuals a glimpse of the fun, excitement and risks associated with human genome data.”
Likewise, Frances Flinter, at King’s College London, says: “Clinical geneticists/genetic counsellors can interpret the results of relevant genetic tests, advise on any subsequent screening that may be indicated and also help to contact other family members who may be at risk.
“Genetic testing without the professional support of experienced staff may be less informative or even misleading.”
I imagine that the launch of 23andMe’s PGS kit will continue to stir as much expert debate as it has public curiosity.
Either way, it certainly wouldn’t be the stocking-filler most of us will be expecting this year.