A crystal ball to our future or a consumer warning?

 

Image by Pawel Muszynski on flickr

 

Have you ever wanted to look into a crystal ball and see what your future holds? Who will you marry, will you have kids, will you win the lottery etc… Unless you believe in palm reading or belong in the world of Harry Potter, we know that it is impossible to predict the future – right?  Wrong. Since the Human Genome Project  scientists continue to unlock the secrets of our genome, the blueprint for our body. Commercial companies are now cashing in on this phenomenon promising to reveal things about you and your future.

 

Your genome your future

So what does your genome have to do with your future? A genome is a person’s complete set of genetic instructions. Like a blueprint for building a house, your genome is the blueprint to make you. Your genome is inherited from each of your parents which is why you have similar features to your parents. Your genome can tell you about your ancestry, determine your traits such as hair and eye colour, and can explain other quirks about you, like why you think coriander tastes like soap. It can also predict the risk of disease. Genomic testing is widely accepted in medical practice to assess the risk of developing a disease or condition caused by a change in your genome. Commercially available genomic testing kits are now promising to do the same.

 

The wealth of information these test kits provide about you, your ancestry, traits and future health risk makes them very appealing and popular. However, before you decide to unlock your genome have a think about these pros and cons of commercially available genomic testing.

 

Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr

 

The pros of unlocking your future

The test can be purchased online and there are many test options and brands to choose from. Taking the test is non-invasive, and involves taking a swab of saliva. For people who have limited of their family history, genomic testing can trace your ancestry, unlocking information about your family tree and ethnicity, perhaps even help you find a living relative.  Knowing you are at risk of developing a disease such as Familial Hypercholesterolemia could encourage you to make some positive lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet, for you and your family, which can only be a good thing. Knowing you are at a low risk of developing a condition can relieve anxiety of developing a condition. Genomic testing can also reveal some fun quirks about you such as your ice cream flavour preference, why you have a fear of heights and move in your sleep.

 

 

The cons of unlocking your future

Unlike medical genomic testing which must take place in an accredited laboratory, some brands offering genomic testing are not accredited which could lead to incorrect results. In a medical setting, healthcare professionals are there to help you understand what your test result means and offer counselling, whereas commercial kit reports are challenging to interpret. Could you imagine thinking you are at risk of developing a serious condition only to find out you had misinterpreted the result? Knowing that you have a predisposition to a condition can cause psychological distress, waiting for the condition to arise or guilt at maybe passing the condition to other family members. It is also important to know that results of commercial test kits cannot be used to access medical treatment and does not serve as a diagnosis for a condition, you still need to see a medical specialist.

 

Your future your choice

Commercial genomic testing kits are ‘fun’ in that they can explain some of your different quirks and can help trace family ancestry, however, to predict your future health and disease I am not so sure. I think I will be sticking with the medical experts.