May 30, 2024

The perils of ancestor testing

Could pose “palpable threats to human welfare”
Genetic ancestry testing is a practice that
has become increasingly popular in the US. An estimated half-million Americans
will purchase a genetic ancestry test from one of the 40 companies around the
world which offer them. However, professional geneticists are worried about the
accuracy and personal and societal implications of this type of testing.

A task force for American Society of Human
Genetics complains in a
recent issue of its journal
that “A major issue regarding commercial
ancestry testing is that there is no quality assurance guarantee”. This is far
more than a technical issue. For many people, their ancestry is a matter of
deep personal concern. Government benefits are also available to people who can
prove that they belong to a particular group. A focus on genetic distinctions can
lead to the discredited notion of separate races. Some applications could cause
“palpable threats to human welfare”. The whole area is so fraught that some US geneticists have called
for government regulation.

The ASHG takes a more moderate stand and
has recommended developing “mechanisms for promoting thoughtful and rigorous
use of genetic ancestry estimation in academic research” and a national roundtable
discussion of direct-to-consumer ancestry testing. “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,” they say. ~ American
Journal of Human Genetics, May 14

Michael Cook
genetic testing