Use your rebate for a genetic test?

Are you considering using your rebate from the US government to buy a genetic test? Even if you get only $300, you could purchase a gender test to determine whether that new baby will be a boy or girl.

Or can you?

Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, reported February 24, 2008 on the results found by one family when they had a gender test conducted.

Amid the tumult of the delivery room, Rohit and Geeta Jain were calm about one thing: Their new baby was sure to be a boy.

Six months earlier, the Jains had spent more than $300 for a test that screened a minute quantity of Geeta's blood for traces of male DNA. The testing company said it was 95% accurate in determining the sex of a baby, even as early as the eighth week of pregnancy.

After six hours in the delivery room, Rohit gaped as his wife gave birth to a daughter.

"There's only two choices -- either it's a boy or a girl," said Rohit, 35, a computer scientist in the Vancouver, Canada, suburb of Surrey. "I couldn't fathom how it could be wrong."

Actually, this result really baffles me, too. I can understand predicting a female and having a male child--the blood sample contained only mother's blood. But, how would you get "male genetic material", as the testing company determined, when there's no Y chromosome anywhere in sight. Of course, there's the posibility the mother is a chimera and has both male and female tissues, but that's really a bit far fetched. It's much more likely the genetic testing was at fault.

What's going on here?

Like scores of other expectant parents, the Jains had stumbled into a corner of the booming genomics industry and discovered that the claims of some genetic entrepreneurs have gone beyond what science can provide.

Marketing directly to consumers, the new crop of companies has jumped into a realm of dubious science, mining DNA to offer information on ethnic heritage, long-lost relatives, personalized dieting plans -- even the sports for which one is best suited.

The tests are loosely based on legitimate scientific research, much of which has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, among others. But often, the companies' claims of accuracy have not been backed up by independent laboratory analysis.

Thousands of consumers have bought tests -- and analysts say the number will only grow as entrepreneurs find more ways to market the mysteries of the human genome.

The Federal Trade Commission, which protects consumers from false and misleading advertising, has warned buyers to be skeptical of at-home genetic tests, which are now unregulated.

In most cases, customers have no way of judging if their test results are accurate. But if a prenatal gender test is wrong, parents will surely find out.

The tests, scientists say, are the latest incarnation of old wives' tales about salty food cravings, hairy legs and belly shapes denoting the sex of the impending baby. This time, the predictions are being sold with the patina of cutting-edge genetic technology.

What's at stake here?

"I wouldn't have had an abortion, but there are women out there who experience really big disappointment," said Jolene Sodano, a stay-at-home mother in Nazareth, Pa., whose daughter was mistakenly identified as a boy.

More than 100 women have filed a lawsuit against Acu-Gen and its owner, Chang-ning Wang, that is pending in federal court. At least one customer has been questioned by the FBI. Wang has repeatedly declined to discuss the scientific validity of the test.

"It made me very angry at myself for believing this gibberish," said Mandana Kouroshnia, a Redlands dentist who joined the suit after her test incorrectly predicted a boy. "I made a fool out of myself."

The same company was involved in a number of suits in New Jersey. I don't know what happened in those cases, but will try to find out. Meanwhile, check out the old standards of gender prediction; they're just as accurate and don't cost much.

Marie Godfrey, PhD


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