Ballpark Estimate: $100 for paternity tests up to $2,500 for more extensive testing
It reads like a page from a science fiction book: using your saliva to gain deeper levels of understanding about your past, your present and your future. But today, this is actually possibly, thanks to a new breed of personal DNA testing, which is easily accessible via the Internet through a variety of companies.
Having your DNA analyzed in this way can actually help to establish paternity, trace your ancestry and determine your predisposition toward certain health conditions and diseases.
Named Best Invention of 2008
Time Magazine recently named such retail DNA testing as one of the best inventions of 2008. This technique can offer willing participants a unique way to learn more about themselves and their makeup. And while learn more about your heredity is informative and has many valuable applications (such as finding out more about your ancestors and formally determining paternity) many people who try DNA testing are most interested in learning what the future may bring.
Retail DNA testing can use your genetic “clues” to find out if you may be at high risk for various serious illnesses. In some cases, the knowledge can empower you to take steps to help protect your health proactively.
How It Works
The logistics of DNA testing can be relatively complicated, but the basic premise is that your DNA is contained within your genes and is responsible for controlling all of the functions that occur in your body. Until very recently, the option of analyzing your genes and gathering information using this information was limited to people who were at high risk for life threatening conditions in order to help them make educated health decisions. Now, though, almost anyone can have this DNA “read” – provided, of course, that they can afford the expense.
A variety of companies now market directly to consumers, offering to scan your genome, which is all of your DNA, to look for variations that would indicate a predisposition for developing certain diseases, such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancer. These tests generally work by asking participants to provide a DNA sample (often taken by swabbing their cheek or using a special rinse to collect the cells). These cells are then sent in to a laboratory, where they are analyzed to determine the individual’s specific makeup or patterns.
Just keep in mind that in most cases, being predisposed does not mean you will contract the disease – rather, just that the possibility does exist. But it is important to understand that a number of other factors usually come into play, and many people who have a tendency toward a disease never go on to actual contract it. Therefore, how helpful the findings of the tests will be is a subject that is currently up for debate in many public health settings.
A Controversial Concept
While some people feel that having access to their possible health risks before they get sick is empowering, not everyone is in favor of this approach. In fact, personal DNA testing poses a large number of valid ethical considerations and concerns. First of all, experts warn that telling people they are at-risk for a condition is not helpful unless there are concrete steps that can then be taken to change things. Further, knowing that someone has the predisposition toward a condition without knowing for sure they will end up having it raises questions about whether to provide existing treatment options and at what point these options could be effectively started.
Overall, many opponents say the concept of DNA testing is a good idea, but the current tests don’t offer enough information to be helpful at this point. In addition, there are some privacy issues to contend with, since if a person is at risk for a serious or potentially fatal condition, this could affect future employment and even insurance coverage. Further complicating the field of personal DNA testing is the fact that companies who perform the testing are not currently regulated, so there is no oversight in place to protect the best interest of consumers.
With these concerns in mind, several states are setting limits on marketing personal DNA tests to their residents. For instance, in California, the Department of Public Health has ordered companies to stop selling their services in the state. Similar action has also been taken in New York. Other states may follow suit as more information about personal DNA testing and practices continue to be highly publicized. To find out more about the laws regarding DNA testing, see the National Conference of State Legislatures website and find out what protections are legally enforced in your state.
There is one currently one federal layer of protection that does exist for Americans who decide to have DNA testing performed. This is through the Genetics Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits employers and health insurance companies from discriminating against people whose test reveal a predisposition for serious health conditions. However, this protection does not extend to life insurance and long-term care insurance, so there are still high risks involved for people who do undergo genetic screenings and have less than favorable results.
What It Costs
What you can expect to spend on personal DNA testing depends a lot on your goals. If you simply want to have your DNA analyzed in order to learn more about your ancestry, or to determine paternity, a number of websites offer inexpensive testing options that can accomplish these things. The cheapest paternity DNA tests start at about $100 and you can do a search online to find a host of options. But it is important to note that if you need the test results to stand up in court to prove your relationship to a child for a custody or child support case, the price can be considerably higher. In fact, it can go up to as high as $600 in order for the analysis to be fully documented in order to be legally binding. Some companies also offer expedited results around for an additional fee. To trace your ancestry, websites such as Ancestry.com charge $200 and up and in exchange for this fee, they will examine your DNA and find other people who match your specific DNA markers and therefore may be related to you in some way. Both of these types of DNA testing are relatively straight forward.
But if you are want more detailed analysis, including your predisposition toward various illnesses, then you should plan on investing more money in the process. There are several companies on the forefront of this field and the prices they charge range from $400 on up to $2,500. On the low end, you can get some basic genome Cost For Personal DNA Testingtesting performed by 23AndMe, which in addition to providing test results also offers internet-based education and tools to help participants understand the findings. Or, for $1,000, you can try deCODE Diagnostics’ version of the DNA test. This price also gives you access to a wealth of information and interactive online tools to make sense of the results. Finally, a company called Navigenics requires a higher financial commitment: $2,500 up front for testing, plus $250 a year to subscribe to the website. In exchange for this investment, you will receive personalized genetic counseling to help you decide how best to respond to your findings and what, if any, lifestyle changes you should make as a result of the information. In addition, regular updates will be provided for customers as new markers are identified for different diseases and new treatment approaches are found to be effective.
So you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 for a basic paternity test on up to $2,500 or more to learn about your genetic health risks.
While the concept of finding out your genetic predisposition to certain diseases may sound tempting, keep in mind that not all companies offering to help you with this endeavor are legitimate. Critics warn that some DNA testing companies will offer to sell you vitamins and supplements that are supposed to address the conditions for which your DNA shows you may be at risk. If you are considering getting personal DNA testing but aren’t familiar with the company’s reputation, find out more first to be sure it is a reputable business. For more information on how to safeguard yourself, you can access an online report called Dubious Genetic Testing, which is provided by a company called Quackwatch.