Retail DNA Testing: The Future Has Arrived

As athletes, we spend a lot of time worrying about the training stress we put on our bodies. Are we doing too much or too little intensity? Do we rest enough? How do we peak when we want? And are we putting the best kinds of fuels in our diet?

But most of us never think about our personal DNA and the impact it could have on our current and future health. Last year, Time magazine named the “Retail DNA Test” Invention of the Year.

For those needing a brief science refresher, DNA is material that governs inheritance of eye color, hair color, height, bone density, muscle performance and many other human and animal traits. DNA is a long, but narrow string-of-beads-like object that comprises the chromosomes in the cells of our body. The ‘beads’ that make up DNA are called bases and can be considered letters providing instructions for building all living things. About six-feet of DNA is normally packed into each cell, a space roughly equal to a cube one/millionth of an inch on a side. Basically, every part of the body is made up of these tiny cells and each contains the full complement of DNA

Comparison of one person’s DNA to another, you will find that the letters and ‘words’ are nearly identical, approximately one letter per 1000 are different between any two people. It is the identity that makes us human, and the variation that makes each of us unique. 

It is the differences in DNA that lead to your unique genetic predisposition for common diseases and conditions; efficacious (or adverse) drug responses, whether you carry recessive mutations that could be passed to your children, as well as a wealth of ancestry information. Many of these differences in DNA can be identified using a retail DNA test.

These retail DNA tests require no blood samples or doctor visits. All you do is drop a little saliva into a collection tube–always provided by the testing company–and overnight it back to a laboratory. The cells derived from a person’s saliva sample will contain the same DNA as other cells in the body. A reputable company will also ensure there is no name on your sample when mailed back. The connection to your bar-coded sample and name is done securely online through separate databases. In other words, make sure whichever company you choose is not storing your DNA information and name in the same database.

DNA testing will also discover more about your personal heritage than you ever thought possible. It can uncover your deep ancestry going back more than 10,000 years into pre-history. Both mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, and Y chromosome (males only), which is passed from father to son, can categorize you into one of over 1,000 maternal groups and 250 paternal groups. You may learn you share common ancestors with famous people or a friend.

So while you’re out training or toeing the line at your next race, think about everything that makes you unique as a human being. It’s your DNA, and it doesn’t have to be hidden or kept secret from you any more. There are several companies that can do comprehensive analysis for less money than certain triathlons are charging for entry. Many people don’t realize DNA testing is now simple and secure.

And when you think about current and future health implications, not just for you but your family and children as well, it makes sense that DNA testing is going to be the cornerstone of personalized medicine.

You’ll also have piece of mind knowing that President Bush, just last year, signed GINA (Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act) to make it illegal for health insurance companies or employers to discriminate based on your genetic information.

Best news is this is no longer the future or science fiction. You can get your DNA tested today by many companies. You should research what these companies are testing and make sure they’ve got the highest security and privacy standards to keep your DNA information protected. A company with its own federal and state certified lab would be a good place to start.


Dr. Becker is Pathway Genomics' Chief Science Officer and his discovery of genes related to Alzheimer's Disease earned him the #5 medical breakthrough of 2008 from Time Magazine. For more information on personal DNA testing and how you might benefit, please visit www.pathway.com.

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