Genetic testing on sale--Why??

Let's see if I can tell you what's happening without naming the company involved. . . .

Today, one of the companies offering genetic testing dropped its $999 price for a "full genome scan" to $399. Most of the stories I read were taken directly from the Associated Press release and quoted the company's CEO as saying, "The mission of the company has always been to enable anyone to be able to get access to their genetic information."

Capitalizing on this comment, The Earth Times expanded the AP announcement into a headline "[Company X] democratizes personal genetics". The Earth Times identifies itself as "a leading website that publishes news reports and the latest information relating to the human environment and interrelated concerns of the international community . . ."  

What can we learn from these announcements? I suggest that Company X:

  • is smart (the price of its genetic test was based on prices of popular electronic equipmen, as is the lowering of the price)
  • is innovative (it has introduced a new community forum for customers to learn and share their genetic insights and gotten financial backing from some really big players)
  • handles challenges well (successfully defeated California's attempt to cut off its sales of genetic testing in that state--although it is still negotiating with New York)
  • isn't getting enough people willing to share their DNA (actually the company co-founder states, "It's just a data problem; we don't have enough.", according to AP)
  • is shooting for much larger markets--global ones (the Earth Times story includes a list of the 51 countries in which Company X's genetic tests are marketed)

What the Company did not mention in its news release--but the Earth Times picked up and broadcast--was its intention to reach a broader range of DNA donators, including those who do not have $999 to spare. Are scholarships for "poor people" next? Is this really "democratization"?

And, this is where race and genetic privacy come in. Company X recently associated itself with a company that specializes in people tracing their ancestry to African countries. If Company X can add this company's DNA to its database, the information available to them will expand tremendously and produce, perhaps, the first database that may include a reasonable percentage of African-Americans.

Hmmm, are there any Latino ancestry companies out there? What about Native Americans? Have there been any announcements from either Company X or the company specializing in African-Americans about the sharing of DNA samples and customer privacy?

Now, what does the information on the privacy of your data say?

Oh well, eventually all "persons of interest" will have their DNA in some database somewhere. Why wait? At this price, you could buy a genomic scan with your incentive check--do you still have that money?

Marie Godfrey, PhD



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