Can we really have “recreational” genomics?

April 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm 1 comment

Even if you sign up for a 23andMe genetic ancestry test for “research and educational uses only,” as the company claims as their purpose in the Terms of Service, there may still be some medical implications in the information you receive.

For example, if a male receives his genotype results from his Y chromosome, and he shows a lack of the DYS464 marker, it can suggest infertility (King). Additionally, as noted in a previous post, most genetic ancestry tests genotype the mtDNA to show maternal lineage. Unfortunately, results from mtDNA genotyping can show a consumer if he or she has a mitochondrial disease, many of which are caused by mitochondrial mutations that are common in the general population (Elliot).

However, 23andMe is very clear that their tests are recreational, and only recreational. In the Terms of Service, the company states:

“The Services Content is not to be, and is not intended to be, used for any diagnostic purpose and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. The Services Content is not to be used, and is not intended to be used, by you or any other person to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent a disease or other impairment or condition, or to ascertain your health.”

The company is also explicit when they recommend that you turn to your doctor with any and all medical questions:

“You should always seek the advice of your physician or other appropriate healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding diagnosis, cure, treatment, mitigation, or prevention of any disease or other medical condition or impairment or the status of your health…Only a trained healthcare professional can assess your current state of health or disease.”

So despite the tantalizing notion that a consumer’s genetic ancestry test result might have some medical implications, 23andMe is very clear that no consumer should accept the 23andMe results as fact. Doctors and healthcare professionals are the only ones who can legally diagnose or treat disease. Apart from the legal statement, however, these tests seem to toe the line between recreational and medical genomics.

Works cited in this post
Elliott, Hannah R. “Pathogenic Mitochondrial DNA Mutations Are Common in the General Population.” American Journal of Human Genetics 83.2 (2008). Web. 4 Apr. 2010.
King, T E, E. Bosch, S M Adams, E J Parkin, Z H Rosser, and M A Jobling. “Inadvertent Diagnosis of Male Infertility through Genealogical DNA Testing.” Journal of Medical Genetics 42.4 (2005). Web. 4 Apr. 2010.
“Terms of Service.” 23andMe. Web. 24 Apr. 2010.


Entry filed under: ethics, policy.

Why should I share my genetic information? Privacy concerns

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dnancestree  |  April 25, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    I agree that 23andMe is bridging a fine line between medicinal and recreational genomics. Indeed, what is the point of getting the disease scan if it is not to be used to plan a prophylactic or even therapeutic treatment? This brings me back to the comment I raised earlier regarding whether consumers should believe themselves to be equal partners in the health care process. If 23andMe won’t accept the liability and endorse its findings as fact and approve their use in health care, then wouldn’t it be suspect for patients to use it as such?


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