University of Iowa biology students will be helping people learn a little more about themselves today on “National DNA Day.”
U-I biology professor Bryant McAllister says his students will help interpret the results of DNA tests that people bring in. He says the students will use their biology knowledge to help interpret the commercial tests and help the individuals make sense of the results. McAllister says the commercial tests came out of the project to map the human genome.
“They can characterize lots of genetic variants within an individual genome and then provide interpretations of that. So, companies started selling these commercial test around five to seven years ago,” McAllister says. And they’ve now become affordable for the public at 99 to 200 dollars.
“They become very popular in terms of the number of customers who have purchased them,” McAllister says, “and there is a variety of different reasons that individuals have as to why they want to take these tests.”
The students who are interpreting the tests are part of a DNA interest club McAllister created for the students. He says interpreting the tests can raise some new questions, because they could reveal things from your DNA that you were never told or might otherwise have never known.
“Always the starting conversation is this is ‘Do you really want to know what is going to be reported to you?’ And so depending on which particular platform they use, they can learn a variety of different things,” McAllister says. He says for example, you may have always been told your ancestry includes Native Americans, but the DNA test finds no genetic link to them. And he says in some cases your DNA is compared to a pool of others.
“That can be millions of other people who have participated and are in their database and that is what they are comparing your genetic profile to and that comparison results in a report of your DNA relatives. So, you cousins who are in your database. Or if one happens to be there — your half siblings that may be in the database — that you may not know about,” McAllister explains. And there is one company that brings up a dilemma about you future.
He says the test called “23 and Me” does some health interpretations, and that brings up the question about whether you want to know that information. “They just recently made the news…because the FDA them to provide interpretations of your susceptibility of developing late-stage Alzheimer’s. So, do you want to know that or not?,” McAllister says. McAllister says some of the companies providing the tests have recognized the issues that may come up with revealing what’s hidden in your DNA.
He says some will provide you with anonymity or let you develop a pseudonym when it comes to contacting others or having them contact you, so you can control who knows your identity. McAllister’s students will helping people sift through their DNA information from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today at the Iowa City Public Library’s main branch.
The students will also advise people on the types of commercial DNA tests available.