In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
Just 28 years later, in 1990, the Human Genome Project launched. Its daunting goal: to map the human genome.
Fast forward another 28 years, and my wife and I are standing in our bathroom giggling about trying to get our 23andMe test completed accurately.
As per, I’m not one for following directions. I just intuit. Well, joke’s on me. Her test worked. Mine has to be redone. Who’d imagine that you needed to follow directions with a DNA test?! Probably Watson and Crick! Yes, dear.
So, just like that, in half a century, we’ve gone from discovering the structure of DNA to being able to giggle about a cheap home genome kit. Astounding!
We used 23andMe. Am I endorsing that one? Not necessarily. In fact, we just randomly picked that one, but if you do your homework (and read the directions!) you can likely do better than us.
There are far more testing options than you might realize. There’s even a website named TopTenBestDNAtesting.com. You literally can’t make this stuff up.
According to the folks at Top Ten, the top five tests are MyHeritage, Ancestry, LivingDNA, GPS Origins, and Vitagenes. Futura Genetics and 23andMe round out the list at 6th and 7th. Should we be concerned that a website called Top Ten only had seven tests listed? But, I digress.
So, which one is the best for you? That depends. What are you curious about?
Some tests are better suited for helping assuage arguments about your family tree. Others are postured to predict health and disease risks. Still others best ferret out how much Neanderthal you’ve inherited. Seriously. I’d be lying if I said this last one isn’t tops on my list. But, I might not tell my wife. I mean, come on, do I really want to scientifically lose all my bargaining power when my wife asks if I was raised in a cave?
Curiosity. They don’t say it killed the cat for no good reason. Joking aside, there are unexpected and unintended consequences that can come from sending your saliva out into the great unknown.
Ariel Bogle, writing for Future Tense, notes, “There are plenty of incidents in history where tests that revealed things about ethnicity and genetics were used in nefarious ways.” That’s a sobering thought. It might seem like science fiction, but caution and care should be given to keeping it from being future fact.
Bogle reminds us that our newfound gleeful exploration and sharing of our genetic information is happening right on the front steps of the internet … and nothing bad ever happens there, right? So, if getting your bank card hacked is a massive headache, what might a dystopian future look like where you get your medical proneness to headaches hacked? Wait, isn’t that an episode of Black Mirror already?
Closer to home – and, perhaps reality – DNA testing is creating contemporary challenges. Likely you know several in your circle of acquaintances who did a DNA test for fun, only to find out that they aren’t an only child, that their long-lost grandfather isn’t so lost or so far away, or that their homogeneous family story is just that: a story. Family secrets, it turns out, crumble under the weight of hard science.
So, if you want to play it safe, DNA tests might not be your thing. It’s that simple. And, there’s no shame in that at all. Might be smart. But, if you’re willing to scroll past the fine print and click “Agree,” there’s a lot of cool stuff you can find out about yourself and your world.
Maybe one of the most compelling and rewarding outcomes of all the DNA testing is just how emphatically it demonstrates how intertwined we all are. We humans are prone to wall ourselves off from those who don’t look like us, but the data is in, and it tells a story that is undeniable. We’re one big family. Consequently, WikiTree is working on creating a “collaborative … single family tree … a tree for the entire human family.” Amazing.
Who could have imagined that in just a generation or two, we’d go from barely understanding the basic structure of DNA to having the technology to map our own DNA through the mail! Well, assuming I follow the directions this time …
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the president of STARRY in Round Rock.