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  • Esther Kim

The Popularity Behind DNA Testing

In 2018, one of the most popular gifts for Christmas or birthdays was DNA test kits.  Youtubers such as the Try Guys, Tyler Oakley, and Jacksepticeye partnered up with companies such as 23andMe to reveal their DNA makeup to the public. Within a couple of months, a video of a person being shocked about their genetic composition appeared in my feed almost every single week. This led me to question, what do these tests show, how is it obtained, and why are they so appealing?

First, I decided to answer the question of what by visiting the 23andMe website. 23andMe offers 2 types of kits: the ancestry service and the ancestry and health service. The former provides information on where your DNA is from worldwide, traces your DNA to a specific group of people, reveals how much Neanderthal DNA you inherited and also provides an overview of the people that share your DNA, all for $99. The ancestry and health service offers at $199, provides information about you beyond your genetic composition. For example, it displays your susceptibility to genetic health risk, wellness, such as caffeine consumption and deep sleep, carrier status for specific genetic conditions, and physical traits ranging from eye color, freckles, hair texture to strange and deep ones such as earwax type, toe length ratio, and widow’s peak.

Second I researched the testing process. When you order a kit, you receive a specimen bag, tube container, saliva collection tube, funnel lid, tube cap, and the instructions sheet. All you need to do is spit into the tube, place the funnel lid, which releases a DNA stabilizing buffer solution, secure the cap, and ship it back to the 23andMe lab where the saliva is tested. In the lab, scientists perform genotyping, which examines thousands of specific locations in the DNA to read ancestry, traits, and basically everything.

Finally, I applied these findings to the question of why to understand the popularity behind this phenomenon. First, these tests help individuals who want to start a family or families with  a member that carries a harmful genetic mutation. Genetic mutations such as cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs disease can prove lethal and eventually lead to death. These tests enable families to be aware of the presence of the condition and take precaution to control or diminish the effect of the mutation. For example, many Jewish couples take the test to determine if they are carriers of Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic disorder that destroys nerve cells. Secondly, the tests provide a sense of community and identity to those who were adopted or separated at birth. On the 23andMe website, there is a section of stories of people who not only found lost family members but a sense of identity as wellby DNA testing. Lastly, DNA tests are amusing. Discovering your genetic makeup and certain traits about your health and identifying yourself as having 20% Neanderthal DNA both contribute to the shock and entertaining factor of the experience. Realizing that you are 10% Native American when all your life you thought you were 100% white is surprising and opens your eyes to another view about yourself.

All in all, DNA testing became a trendy gift idea within the last year and the reason behind the popularity is now disclosed. Which gift would become popular this year? The question remains unsettled…

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