DNA Ancestry Tests Questioned

by jeeg 14. May 2010 01:29


Companies that sell gene tests to help people trace their lineage offer “no quality assurance guarantee” and should strengthen the science behind their services, researchers led by a Duke University scientist said.

Ancestry.com Inc. in Provo, Utah, Pathway Genomics Corp. in San Diego, and 23andMe Inc. in Mountain View, California, are among almost 40 companies worldwide that sell such products. Officials from these enterprises should meet with geneticists, physicians and U.S. agencies to “brainstorm” about ways to improve their tests and databases, seven scientists said today in a report published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Scientists analyze DNA from mitochondria, the cells’ power-producing machinery, to study ancestry because it is passed down through generations directly from mother to child. That may lead to inaccuracies, because an exact genetic mitochondrial DNA match doesn’t tell scientists how closely related two people are, or where they came from, the authors wrote. Gene-based ancestry research has “intrinsic uncertainties” and needs “improved and enforced” standards, the researchers said.

“The time is now for no-holds-barred discussions among the players, particularly among scientists who must more purposefully and constructively critique one another’s premises, methodologies, findings, and interpretations of findings,” said the authors, led by Charmaine Royal, an associate research professor at Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, in Durham, North Carolina.

Consumers Cautioned

Consumers shouldn’t jump to conclusions about lineage, or where ancestors might have lived, on the basis of genetic ancestry tests, said Joann Boughman, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics, the Bethesda, Maryland- based organization that sponsored the study.

“It’s not that we don’t think ancestry is important or interesting -- we think it is,” Boughman said yesterday in an interview. “But these tests are complex, and there may be more variation” in a person’s roots “than is implied.”

Ancestry.com, the world’s largest Internet provider of family histories, charges $149 to $179 for DNA test kits, Mike Ward, a company spokesman, said today in an e-mail. The company, which went public in November, reported $224.9 million in sales last year. Products including genetic tests accounted for 7.6 percent of revenue and the rest came from the company’s subscription-based genealogical records services, according to the company’s Feb. 18 earnings report.

Ancestry.com offers genetic testing through a partnership with Sorenson Genomics, a nationally and internationally accredited DNA laboratory in Salt Lake City, Ward said.

‘Very Early Phase’

“There is a great amount of quality in the laboratory methods that we use, Lars Mouritsen, Sorenson’s chief scientific officer, said today in an interview. “We’re still in a very early phase of the industry. We’re providing the best information that we can with what’s available right now.”

Companies’ and scientists’ interpretations of genetic ancestry information will improve as researchers study additional populations and databases grow, Mouritsen said.

Pathway Genomics spokesman Robert Blodgett and Rachel Nagler, an outside spokeswoman for 123andMe, didn’t immediately respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The genetic tests covered by today’s journal report are designed to provide information about a person’s ancestry. Consumers also buy genetic tests to learn about their ability to respond to drugs, and their chances of developing gene-based diseases or passing genetic variations to children.

Walgreen Co. shoppers won’t see personal gene tests on the drugstore chain’s shelves tomorrow as planned after U.S. regulators said yesterday they need to review the test kits made for Walgreen by Pathway Genomics.

Walgreen, based in Deerfield, Illinois, canceled plans to start selling the gene test after the Food and Drug Administration told Pathway that the product appears to be a medical device subject to agency review.


6/18/2010 11:55:23 PM #


Discovering ancestry is always an intriguing task. Do you have any suggestions for info on this topic?

Miley United States |

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