The
exploration of the human genome has long been relegated to elite scientists in
research laboratories. But that is about to change. An infant industry is
capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any
individual unprecedented – and unmediated – entree to their own DNA.


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For as little as $1,000 and a
saliva sample, customers will be able to learn what is known so far about how
the billions of bits in their biological code shape who they are. Three
companies have already announced plans to market such services, one on
Friday.


One of the companies
that plans to market personal DNA information, Navigenics, intends to provide a
phone consultation with a genetic counselor along with the results. Its service
would cost $2,500 and would initially provide data on 20 health conditions.
DeCODE Genetics and 23andMe will offer referrals. Although what they can tell
you is limited right now, all three companies are hoping that people will be
drawn by the prospect of instant updates on what is expected to be a flood of
new findings.


Although
personal DNA testing has been available for several years, it has focused on a
few genes. DeCode, in contrast, tests more than 1m genetic variants. But the
Icelandic company, which has a strong record of discovering disease-causing
genes, will not have the field of large-scale genetic testing to
itself.


“People who buy
the service will have the opportunity to look at their genome and compare it to
the genomes of those who in the past have been shown to be at particular risk of
certain diseases,” said Kari Stefansson, chief executive of DeCode
Genetics. “It will also give people an opportunity to put their genome in
context of what we know about the genetics of population history,” he
added. “So people will be able to figure out where their ancestors came
from.”


Customers receive
an analysis of their genome a few weeks after sending a cheek swab to the
company. Stefansson said it was the first time that such a service had been
available to the public.


Critics have voiced concern,
fearing that it would overemphasise the role of genes in common diseases.
“Bad diet, smoking, poverty and pollution are all factors that are
probably much more important,” GeneWatch UK director Helen Wallace told
bbc.com. “So there is a real danger that people taking these tests will be
misled about their health.” Dr Wallace explained, “We are not so
concerned about people having information. “We are concerned about them
having misinformation.”


Craig Venter, the DNA
sequencing pioneer who has analysed his whole genome in great detail, said he
had found little useful information about his own
health.


But Stefansson said the
company felt it had a duty to make the service available to people who wanted to
use it. “We have participated in communicating those results through
scientific papers and the (media). So we feel that we have a certain obligation
to help the public to put it into context.”

Via Times of India