MUCH like your fingerprint, your DNA is unique. Unlike a fingerprint, DNA is inherited, so by testing it you can do some family research, whether it is to see if you have the probability of developing a disease or to have a look at your global ancestry.
And nowadays, the affordable price of online tests means many people can have a go.
These are not the specific tests carried out by research centres which zoom in on a certain inherited medical condition but kits which aim to inform you mainly about your ancestry but may also cover genetic predispositions. These packs can be ordered by anyone over the Internet.
A reason for the popularity of such tests is that they are very easy to do. All that is needed is to provide a saliva sample according to the kit’s instructions and send it back to the company from which it was purchased.
Jessica Greene who lives with her family in Cyprus together with her sister recently got one as a present for her parents. The kit, ordered to check some health issues, cost GBP140. It came with instructions on how to log into an account and check their personal results.
Many results from these tests would be hard to come by in any other way. The Greene family was surprised to read about the likelihood that they can smell asparagus, their ear wax type and the probabilities of their eyes being a light colour.
What many people find more fascinating than finding out if they are likely to be light sleepers, something that is probably obvious, and a reason why so many spend money to get the results is to discover where they come from. Many participants have been astonished to learn their ancestors hailed from places further from their home country than they ever imagined.
The genetic ancestry goes back in timelines, you can see if you are likely to have a great-grandparent who was 100 per cent French, German, African or even the origin of a great-great-grandparent.
It is possible to discover if you have any relatives about whom you hadn’t known. That is, if you have agreed to waive a certain amount of anonymity and your relative has also taken the test and done the same.
Isabel Greene for one discovered a third cousin living in Canada and wasted no time in contracting her via email. They have since sent many emails back and forth, discovered exactly through which relatives they are related and even found a photo with common relatives.
“The whole thing is fascinating if you want to find out about origins, health etc.,” Isabel said about the test. “The relatives part was a bonus for me but very exciting. I got goosebumps when I realised how closely related my third cousin and I were. I had met her grandmother. When I saw the photo I recognised I got very excited.” She added that meeting up with the newly-found relative in future is also a possibility.
While these tests are mainly for fun, other DNA tests are purely for medical reasons. In Cyprus, testing for hereditary diseases is done at the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics (Cing) free of charge, providing the patient agrees for the results to be fed anonymously into a database and has been sent by a state hospital. These are very specific tests which are only carried out when a doctor recommends them. Unlike the testing by online companies, a person cannot simply decide to purchase them.
The purpose of storing the results in a database differs from those of the online kits. You won’t find a relative but results are used for broader research. A recent study by the institute for example has found that Greek and Turkish Cypriots have more in common than meets the eye, as most of them come from a single paternal gene pool of local origin and have very close genetic affinity.
Unpleasant results may also crop up, whether a person is using a kit or taking a test at an institute. It is not funny to find out that one’s probability of getting Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s is high. Clinical geneticists have long argued that testing should be accompanied by adequate post-test information and counseling to help individuals understand and deal with the information which may cause distress and anxiety.
“The institute follows the people’s progress. Of course we can only prevent, not cure,” George Vatiliotis from the institute said. “We can then find out when a woman is pregnant if the foetus has the medical condition. We have a database and collaborate with hospitals abroad when they need information about a case.”
The many studies require large sets of data and those who are loathe to find out if they are likely to develop a medical condition may still take a test to help find future cures for a disease.
The online tests have another advantage – you can find out if you are unique. After all, very few people can detect the smell asparagus adds to their urine after they have eaten the vegetable.