genetic ancestory testing sites no better than astrology?!
Posted: 27 February 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I found this on John Hawkes’s site and it’s a bit disturbing. It seems that since the discovery of the mitachondrial eve among others, people have been spending big bucks trying to determine their origins. Some genetic testing sites claim that they can trace your ancestory back to a specific group, say the Vikings perhaps. One I visited claims that not only could it trace your Native American ancestory, but it could pinpoint your tribal background. Information from these sites can come at a high price for the consumer as some charge as much as $500.00 for a background search. geneticists dismiss this as mere “storytelling” and claim that is an impossibility due to the fact that beyond 5,000 ya we are all descended from common ancestors, according to Mark Thomas, Professor of Evolutionary genetics at London University. It’s disapointing to say the least. I’m sure that there are other legitimate genetic sites out there like 23andme that don’t use genetic testing as a dodge. What do ya think?

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Posted: 27 February 2013 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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People want to buy fairytales, let them buy fairytales.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yeah George, but they’re damned expensive fairytales. I mean I can see putting money in a hobby just for kicks and giggles but false hopes? It’s like going to Vegas with your life savings in the hopes of making a fortune and not just to see a stage performer being eaten by a lion while you munch away on free buffet food. This is genetics man. Science, not woo. Who am I kidding? Everybody goes to Vegas for the shows and to waste money. Those who have it that is. So I guess now I can say that I have Viking ancestory because I like mead?


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Posted: 27 February 2013 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thevillageatheist - 27 February 2013 09:06 AM

I found this on John Hawkes’s site and it’s a bit disturbing. It seems that since the discovery of the mitachondrial eve among others, people have been spending big bucks trying to determine their origins. Some genetic testing sites claim that they can trace your ancestory back to a specific group, say the Vikings perhaps. One I visited claims that not only could it trace your Native American ancestory, but it could pinpoint your tribal background. Information from these sites can come at a high price for the consumer as some charge as much as $500.00 for a background search. geneticists dismiss this as mere “storytelling” and claim that is an impossibility due to the fact that beyond 5,000 ya we are all descended from common ancestors, according to Mark Thomas, Professor of Evolutionary genetics at London University. It’s disapointing to say the least. I’m sure that there are other legitimate genetic sites out there like 23andme that don’t use genetic testing as a dodge. What do ya think?

I know what you mean. There are some AA genetic sites that claim they can trace you back to a specific African tribe. By the time you get back to slavery, (I) have 16 ancestors. 99% of my ancestors have been here since before the Revolutionary War (2 of my 4xgreats came the the US in the 1780s and 90s) so with each generation back, there is a possibility of 2 more separate ‘tribes’. I can throw down a coin on West Africa and hit a tribe I’m related to with the same degree of accuracy.Besides, the area is one of the most diverse in the world, chances are, they haven’t made a dent in testing all of the haplogroups there.  I’ve also seen that claim for NAs, but not all NA tribes have been willing to test, because they don’t want to get into having to explain the results. That claim is just plain stupid. No, 23andMe doesn’t make that claim.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Also, Jack, don’t forget that the more people get their DNA sequenced, the better knowledge we’ll have about all of us (assuming people who send in their saliva or blood provide additional information about their habits, health, etc.). I say if they need a dumb reason to play a part in this, let them.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 07:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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DNA testing is a totally unregulated industry right now and ripe with scammers. There are a number of companies now offering to do genetic sequencing and then tell you what diseases you are likely to get. the problem is that much of the what they are telling people is based on very limited data and the reports may do more harm than good especially when the info is delivered without the benefit of a knowledgeable genetic counselor to help you interpret the results.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 07:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Also, Jack, don’t forget that the more people get their DNA sequenced, the better knowledge we’ll have about all of us (assuming people who send in their saliva or blood provide additional information about their habits, health, etc.). I say if they need a dumb reason to play a part in this, let them.


I do plan to participate in the project and was wondering with all the media hype and the many bogus sites if 23andme was legit. I have been researching it and it seems to be the only one NOT touting the ability to pinpoint individual ancestory. I knew it sounded too good to be true. Now on to Svante Paabo’s (can’t put in the accent marks yet, need help) claim on the discovery channel program about Neanderthals that there is really no evidence of Neanderthal DNA in our genes. He said that the tests were inconclusive do to a limited number of Neanderthal remains. Yet another disappointment.

 

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Posted: 28 February 2013 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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macgyver - 27 February 2013 07:00 PM

DNA testing is a totally unregulated industry right now and ripe with scammers. There are a number of companies now offering to do genetic sequencing and then tell you what diseases you are likely to get. the problem is that much of the what they are telling people is based on very limited data and the reports may do more harm than good especially when the info is delivered without the benefit of a knowledgeable genetic counselor to help you interpret the results.

Well, a company like 23andMe is quite explicit in explaining what we can learn as far as our health goes and surelly doesn’t say that you will get this or that disease. Based on the results I got it pretty much describes the health history of our family. If somebody misunderstands what genetic sequencing is all about, it’s their own fault.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I know what you mean. There are some AA genetic sites that claim they can trace you back to a specific African tribe. By the time you get back to slavery, (I) have 16 ancestors. 99% of my ancestors have been here since before the Revolutionary War (2 of my 4xgreats came the the US in the 1780s and 90s) so with each generation back, there is a possibility of 2 more separate ‘tribes’. I can throw down a coin on West Africa and hit a tribe I’m related to with the same degree of accuracy.Besides, the area is one of the most diverse in the world, chances are, they haven’t made a dent in testing all of the haplogroups there.  I’ve also seen that claim for NAs, but not all NA tribes have been willing to test, because they don’t want to get into having to explain the results. That claim is just plain stupid. No, 23andMe doesn’t make that claim.


So many Americans lost their familial roots that I’m afraid the hook here is to reunite you with your past, which they cannot do. We are such a nomadic people that we’re scattered all over the country in no more than 150 years and names have been altered, misspelled and records burned (The War). Also many newcomers had their names changed to blend in and their descendants find the genealogical trail a cold one indeed. It’s just too early to be able to determine what an individual’s genetic background with the kind of accuracy that will lead us back to our particular tribes. And we were ALL tribal at one time.


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Posted: 28 February 2013 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 28 February 2013 05:21 AM

Well, a company like 23andMe is quite explicit in explaining what we can learn as far as our health goes and surelly doesn’t say that you will get this or that disease. Based on the results I got it pretty much describes the health history of our family. If somebody misunderstands what genetic sequencing is all about, it’s their own fault.

I realize that the reports only discuss probability but I think there is a danger in giving this information to people who can’t handle it and don’t have someone around to give them a personal and expert interpretation. That needs to be balanced against any benefit that might be obtained from having this information but that’s where the marketing and the hype have gotten a bit ahead of the science. The information is helpful if it allows the individual to take action that will alter the outcome or if no such action is available, to prepare for the potential outcome ( ie. early death or dementia). If it allows you to do neither than it creates worry without offering any benefit.

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For example, the 23andMe website has a graphic claiming that they can estimate your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes from a low of 8% to a high of 52%. That is all well and good but consider the actions that one can take to prevent diabetes. You can decrease the amount of processed carbs and free sugars in your diet, you can exercise regularly, and you can keep your abdominal girth within acceptable limits. So there are a number of things you can do but they are all things the average person should be doing anyway for a whole host of reasons. A person who gets a risk assessment of 8% may falsely conclude they don’t need to be careful. A person who gets an estimate of 52% may be more likely to follow the guidelines but conversely they may decide that their fate is sealed and give up trying at all. Keep in mind that we don’t even know how good the data is that they are basing these risk assessment on, and many illnesses are not governed by one or two genes so the issue may be much more complex than it appears with these results. (On a side note and referring back to another discussion we had George, the disclaimer at the bottom says these calculations are for people of European ancestry. Are you now willing to accept that European test results can be applied uniformly to the rest of us?)

They also claim that by checking for certain genetic marker you can determine how a patient may react to warfarin and theoretically predict the proper dose more accurately but in practice this would be relatively useless since Coumadin levels are constantly checked and adjusted. A genetic “estimate” of the correct dose will never replace an actual measurement for this medication. It may be academically interesting but it has no practical use.

You are correct that people should not request this information if they aren’t going to use it intelligently but since this is entirely unregulated there are no guidelines to prevent it from being misused. These companies will sell this info to anyone who requests it.  I take care of lots of “worried well” patients. Its a part of life these days. I can only imagine how some of them would handle a report of this type and I am concerned that the company is making promises that can not be fulfilled. The tone of their promotion implies that they will be able to provide information for many illnesses and that this information will give the customer the power to alter the outcome. I think they are significantly overstating the situation.

[ Edited: 28 February 2013 11:15 AM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 28 February 2013 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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First, 23andMe doesn’t claim that they can estimate the chances of getting a specific disease, but rather a genetic (!) chance. Big difference.

Second, they do tell you what you can do to prevent getting sick and as far as I can tell all the information sounds very reasonable. They also offer counseling for people who might get all scared and desperate. In addition, when it comes to diseases where genetics play a significant role (say, Parkinson’s or breast cancer), the file will have a lock on it and before you decide to open it you have to read all kinds of warnings to make sure you’re ready to learn what the file contains.

Third, I am actually categorized as a male of Norther-Europen ancestry, not European. Still not perfect, but that’s the best they can do for now, I guess. I am sure that with time and additional information they’ll be able to be even more specific.

Genetics is here to stay regardless of if we like or not. There will always be people who won’t understand it or even misuse it, but the positive contribution we can expect genetics to add to our knowledge and well-being is, in my opinion, worth the damage it may cuase along the way.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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George - 28 February 2013 12:19 PM

First, 23andMe doesn’t claim that they can estimate the chances of getting a specific disease, but rather a genetic (!) chance. Big difference.

There is only a difference in cases where there is an environmental component which granted is most cases but not all. Regardless my point was that many people who see those stats at one extreme or the other will therefor conclude the environmental component wont make enough of a difference and may alter their behavior in a way that may have a negative outcome.

George - 28 February 2013 12:19 PM

Second, they do tell you what you can do to prevent getting sick and as far as I can tell all the information sounds very reasonable. They also offer counseling for people who might get all scared and desperate.

I’m glad to hear they offer counseling. Hopefully it is a certified genetic counselor and not some college biology major but maybe the literature you have will have more info on that.

George - 28 February 2013 12:19 PM

In addition, when it comes to diseases where genetics play a significant role (say, Parkinson’s or breast cancer), the file will have a lock on it and before you decide to open it you have to read all kinds of warnings to make sure you’re ready to learn what the file contains.
.

This is one of the areas that is problematic. Why tell someone they have a 20%(genetic) chance of developing Parkinson’s disease? There are most likely some environmental triggers but we have very little info on what they are and there is absolutely nothing a person can do except worry. Early detection and treatment do nothing to alter the course of this disease. In fact the usual advice to someone who has been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s disease is to continue a healthy lifestyle and come back when it gets worse. Breast cancer is a different issue entirely. I’m not sure if they are doing BRCA gene testing as part of this although i doubt it. BRCA gene testing is highly predictive of breast cancer and ovarian cancer risk and there are fairly good guidelines governing how to handle that, but for something like this I’m not sure its so clear what should be done. There could be significant negative fallout if a woman were to start getting mammograms at an earlier stage simply because of this test.

George - 28 February 2013 12:19 PM

Third, I am actually categorized as a male of Norther-Europen ancestry, not European. Still not perfect, but that’s the best they can do for now, I guess. I am sure that with time and additional information they’ll be able to be even more specific..

This is exactly the point I was trying to make with the mediterranean diet, but which you had a hard time accepting. The data we have may not perfectly mirror our personal demographic but that does not make the information unreliable by default. As you say, not perfect but the best we have for now. If you’re going to make that argument you need to be consistent.

George - 28 February 2013 12:19 PM

Genetics is here to stay regardless of if we like or not. There will always be people who won’t understand it or even misuse it, but the positive contribution we can expect genetics to add to our knowledge and well-being is, in my opinion, worth the damage it may cuase along the way.

You are absolutely right. Genetics is a powerful tool and when its used properly it can have positive effects on health outcomes but its not a toy and shouldn’t be marketed as one for the sake of profits. I guarantee that this company has no good studies to show that what they are doing has resulted in more good than harm.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 03:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I have no idea what studies they have done but based on my personal experience I can’t imagine how what I got out of it could be harmful. My risk of getting atrial fibrillation is very high and since my mother has it as well, I think it’s a good indicator of 23andMe not making stuff up. Now, how would this information result in anything except for being beneficial to me?

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Posted: 28 February 2013 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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George - 28 February 2013 03:04 PM

I have no idea what studies they have done but based on my personal experience I can’t imagine how what I got out of it could be harmful. My risk of getting atrial fibrillation is very high and since my mother has it as well, I think it’s a good indicator of 23andMe not making stuff up. Now, how would this information result in anything except for being beneficial to me?

Well lets for argument sake use the one example you are giving here keeping in mind that the range of medical issues here is wide and brings up many different problems. A-fib is an age related phenomena affecting approximately 6% of people over the age of 65 and increasing with advancing age to 9% in people over 80, so the fact that your mother has it does not lend a great deal of support to the predictive value of this test since it is a fairly common disorder. It may be accurate but it may have been just luck. I can’t honestly say I know much about the heritable factors involved in afib

Sticking with this one item though lets look at my original comment ie. a test is only helpful if it allows you to intervene in some way to alter the outcome or prepare for the inevitable. Since afib is not a universally fatal disorder, what is it that you would do differently knowing that you are at increased risk? You might go to the doctor on a regular basis to get a routine EKG, but as you may or may not be aware routine EKG’s have recently come under scrutiny because minor abnormalities can sometimes lead to more invasive testing. Would more frequent or earlier EKG’s lead to a better outcome or just more testing with its associated risks? I don’t know, but this is the problem with doing this sort of testing without thinking it through. More information isnt always empowering. Sometimes it just leads to more testing, more risk or more anxiety.

I am not against genetic testing but it has to be done in a rational way with some forethought and consideration for what you will do with the results. In medicine we never order a test unless its going to change our treatment plan. If the public is going to start ordering medical tests they should follow the same guidelines.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Hmm, I know my mother’s heart goes—and I am about to use a medical term now—ALL CRAZY (!) when she experiences very stressful situations. She tries to avoid them as much as possible, so knowing that I might suffer from a similar problem I’ll try to avoid them as well. Or maybe I’ll quit smoking…or go on a Mediterranean diet.  wink Actually I am drinking red wine right now and I am very happy to know that I am doing something good for my health. So thanks to you, macgyver, and thanks to 23andMe. ¡Salud!

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Posted: 28 February 2013 08:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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It was interesting to know I carry G6PD deficiency, and my sib carries Tay Sachs. Both important to know. I already knew I carried color blindness (my dad was red/green colorblind)  I passed the info to my sibs to pass to their children. The G6PD might come up, but no one would think of testing an African American for Tay Sachs.

edit—the rest I take with a grain of salt.

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