DNA Dynasty: Consumer genetics gone bad

Add my voice to the many others who have already denounced DNA Dynasty, a company in Singapore that peddles “Genius Health” (discover the innate talents of your children!) among other genetic testing services of dubious merit. Initially, the outrage was over their blatant, unattributed use of Ricardo Vidal’s logo for the DNA Network:

Ricardo's logo for The DNA Network

Ricardo's logo for The DNA Network

DNA Dynasty's unattributed use

DNA Dynasty's unattributed use

but as more people notice what the company is actually doing, the disapproval has extended to its unscientific claims. Aside from more obviously quack science like “hair analysis through Bio-Sonic technology” that tells you about your emotions and “chakra”, and “negative ion detox” (think foot pads), they also peddle genetic disease susceptibility tests and tests for “Kids innate talents”. Here are some choice excerpts:

(DNA Disease Susceptibility) “Take the DNA Diseases Susceptibility Test to identify what are the genetically inherited diseases and start living the lifestyle as recommended to prevent the diseases from happening.”

(Kids Innate Talent) “You will be given a clear scientific report  identifying what are the innate talents of your children.  With that, you can focus all the training and development on their true talents so that they can become successful in their strength and not in their weakness.  Financially, this is a cost saving plan.  Emotionally, it prevent unnecessary heartaches from failure.  In a long run, you have ensured future success for your children.”

This is exactly why consumer genetics is getting a bad rap, and why concerns about regulation are not completely unfounded. I do not advocate requiring doctor approval or prescriptions in order to get your genome sequenced – doctors rarely know what to do with the sequence anyway, and besides, it’s your DNA – but I also think the benefits, risks, and ambiguities associated with genetic testing need to be clearly outlined by trusted sources. As Russ Altman points out, “we must work to educate every day people about how to interpret their genome and how to use the information beneficially.  Trying to protect them in a paternalistic manner is going to fail, I fear–because it will be too easy to get the information cheaply.”

Some genetic tests for well-studied conditions like breast cancer are well established, but the truth is that for the vast majority of conditions, we simply do not know enough to say whether you will or will not get a certain disease. All we may know in most cases is that there may be an increased likelihood – and that is a tricky thing to interpret. Taking preventive measures probably doesn’t hurt (especially if they’re common sense things like exercising and keeping a healthy diet), but they won’t necessarily prevent the disease from happening the way DNA Dynasty claims.

And the part about innate talent testing is simply feeding off of parents’ desires to have ridiculously amazing kids. As pointed out, traits like intelligence, musical aptitude, and athletic ability are very complex, and while there are genetic factors, environment can play just as big of a role. And again, even if there are genetic markers for certain traits, they don’t necessarily guarantee that your child will be a musical prodigy or a basketball star. They in no way “ensure future success for your children.” A whole host of other factors come into play, such as the child’s work ethic and desire for that activity, to name just a few.

Clearly, there are lots of problems with such a deterministic approach towards child-rearing, dubious science aside. It would be a traumatic childhood indeed if my parents had it in their head, through some genetic test that they paid thousands of dollars for, that I should be a world-class pianist, and anything less would be a failure to meet my genetic potential. Nevermind if I preferred art, or writing, or even science, or if I only achieved national recognition. I’d probably be a very miserable person, and my parents probably wouldn’t be very happy either. (Fortunately, my parents are wonderful and I had a great childhood!)

DNA Dynasty’s certainly not the first to try to profit off of new and poorly understood technology by taking advantage of the foibles of human nature, but it stands to tarnish legitimate companies who provide actual scientific services and information.

I’ll end with my favorite part of their website (emphasis added):

Our DNA Disease Susceptibility Test Approach… Increases mortality rate by following a recommended lifestyle and diet…

Oops. Freudian slip?

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2 Responses to DNA Dynasty: Consumer genetics gone bad

  1. Pingback: Science in the open » My Bad…or how far should the open mindset go?

  2. Pingback: Science in the Open » Blog Archive » My Bad…or how far should the open mindset go?

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