Top DNA Stories of the Year

DNA Rocks the News


This was definitely the year that was in DNA news. Here are, we propose, the top three stories.

First, last June came the U.S. Supreme Court decision that police officers can now legally take DNA from anyone they arrest. Yes, and they then then enter your DNA profile into a database where they can match it with existing samples (Dan Noswolitiz, “It’s Now Legal for the Police to Collect DNA,” Popular Science). Since we live in a rather scary world since 9/11, I thought that might be constructive, at first glance, until I realized that the key word is “arrest” not “charged.” What is the difference? People are falsely framed and arrested every day as well as arrested for minor offenses. Consequently, there are any number of ways this could be abused. Even if someone is declared innocent, guess what? They still have your DNA.

Do you want others to have your personal genomic data? That is a question you might want to ask of any DNA testing company you use. What do you do with my DNA? Do you keep it and put it in a database or share it with others? In the same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented, except for synthetic genes. This was in response to a lawsuit between “Myriad Genetics, a medical diagnostics company, and the Association for Molecular Pathology” (Young). Many saw this as a win for women with an elevated genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancers as well as researchers and scientists (Richard Wolf, “Justices Rule Human Genes Cannot Be Patented,” USA TODAY) Why? Myriad had a monopoly on the gene; as a result, no one else could produce or manufacture it, and the genetic test was inordinately expensive.

23 and Me vs. Nearly Everybody Else 
Not every woman has a bank account matching Angelina Jolie’s. Her decision to first take the genetic test and then have a preventive double mastectomy because of her high risk of breast cancer brought this case to the forefront. But the breast cancer issue also played into the biggest and most controversial story of the year concerning genetics testing for disease and the battle between the FDA and 23&me. The FDA told them to stop selling health and medical related information with their genetic tests. Some see this as the FDA stealing their right to their own personal genetic information. Since there is no genetic destiny for disease because of other lifestyle and epigenetic factors (Carl Zimmer, “Hope, Hype, and Genetic Breakthroughs” Wall Street Journal), others see this as part of a process to ensure that these tests are accurate and not misinterpreted. However, knowing you have a high genetic risk for a disease might mean you make better lifestyle choices. I think in the end it will not spell the end for direct-to-consumer genetic health services. Hopefully, the industry will not only be resurrected, but there will also be better guidelines for the field as well as the consumer spurring a wider market so consumers have more choices. I am looking for that silver lining in the New Year.

So that’s three stories that spell continuing interest in DNA testing everywhere. Watch for headlines on personal genomics, medical tests and Denisovans/Neanderthals in the coming year.

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