Consumer Genetic Testing

June 14, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 22
Do the popular DNA tests offer useful information about health risks and heritage?
By Barbara Mantel


Direct-to-consumer genetic testing, introduced in 2000, has seen explosive growth in recent years. In 2018, as many people purchased the testing kits as in all previous years combined. Companies such as Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe provide genealogy information to consumers, and 23andMe also analyzes users' genetic risk for 12 diseases and health conditions. But critics say reports produced by the testing companies can be inaccurate, misleading and vulnerable to hacking. Others complain that government oversight is too weak to prevent genetic information from being used to discriminate against consumers or violate the privacy of relatives of people who submit their DNA for testing. Privacy concerns have grown especially acute after law enforcement officials began using some testing companies, such as GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, to try to solve crimes. Testing companies defend the accuracy of their work and their privacy and security policies. They and their supporters, including some geneticists, say consumers have a right to their genetic information and that such data, stripped of identifying information, can help researchers find treatments for diseases.

Randall Lorenz (AP Photo/Idaho Statesman/Darin Oswald)
Randall Lorenz, of Reno, Nev., and Jerica Starkweather, of Emmett, Idaho, realized they may be close relatives after Lorenz, who learned late in life that he had been adopted as a baby, took a direct-to-consumer genetic test. He holds up a photo of Starkweather's mother, who could be his biological sister or cousin. By the end of 2018, more than 26 million people had used consumer genetic tests to learn more about their ancestry and health risks. (AP Photo/Idaho Statesman/Darin Oswald)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Genetics and Cloning
Jun. 14, 2019  Consumer Genetic Testing
Apr. 26, 2019  Manipulating Human Genes
Sep. 15, 2017  Medical Breakthroughs
Jun. 19, 2015  Manipulating the Human Genome
May 31, 2013  Patenting Human Genes
Jan. 21, 2011  Genes and Health
May 15, 2009  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 22, 2004  Cloning Debate
May 18, 2001  Designer Humans
May 12, 2000  Human Genome Research
Dec. 17, 1999  Embryo Research
May 28, 1999  DNA Databases
Apr. 03, 1998  Biology and Behavior
May 09, 1997  The Cloning Controversy
Dec. 08, 1995  Gene Therapy's Future
Apr. 08, 1994  Reproductive Ethics
Oct. 18, 1991  Gene Therapy
Aug. 16, 1991  Fetal Tissue Research
Jun. 30, 1989  Solving Crimes with Genetic Fingerprinting
Apr. 03, 1987  Biotechnology Developments
Jan. 10, 1986  Genetic Breakthroughs
Dec. 26, 1980  Genetic Business
Mar. 25, 1977  Genetic Research
May 19, 1971  Human Engineering
Aug. 20, 1969  Human Intelligence
Dec. 13, 1967  Genetics and the Life Process
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Genetic Disorders and Medical Genetics
Medical Devices and Technology
Medical Research and Advocacy
Regulation and Deregulation