DNA: the quest for the lost eden

You are unlikely to have escaped 2018’s self-professed hottest trend and this season’s ultimate festive gift: DNA testing!

It used to be exclusive to the police and the justice system. But DNA testing has been transformed into an experience for people to try for themselves. The aim is “uncovering” the hidden origins of those who volunteer for the test or game. Able to go back several centuries, these tests promise to retrace your origins through several generations with your saliva!

Your ancestry determined by the number

This year has been a particularly favorable environment in which to promote this kind of test. Cause some stars and other influencers have appeared in promotional materials and agreed to act as guinea pigs for the testing. That is exactly what is involved. By performing a test, you are experimenting on yourself to expand the pool of information available to the relevant companies. Indeed, this is what enables them to increase their accuracy in determining people’s genetic origins.

Nonetheless there is still a margin of error that varies from one test to another. As DNA data is only collected on a voluntary basis, it follows that the data can change based on the people who take the test and how many are tested.

Taking DNA back to its roots

You may wonder why there is such an abundance of tests currently. There is no official answer to this question. Nevertheless the scandal around Senator Elizabeth Warren on the other side of the Atlantic springs readily to mind. As a reminder, she had carried out a DNA test to demonstrate her American Indian roots in response to the skeptical response to her claims from President Trump.

Indeed, DNA testing has become extremely widespread in the United States – with a growth from 300,000 people taking a test in 2013 to 12 million in 2018. This constitutes irrefutable proof that this type of testing has become more accessible.

While there is no longer any question as to the accuracy of these tests, people are nonetheless speaking out against these new companies. They more often criticize their goals as excessively vague. Indeed, who can say what will become of the genetic data that is collected in bulk by these companies? Who can predict what will happen to the personal data that is involved, and how it could be used?

What happens to the DNA that is collected?

People who open to conspiracy thinking will see an opportunity for future multinational companies to make a profit by reselling our genetic data to insurers. So they could set their premiums based on genetic anomalies that they detect: a fairly bleak vision of the future.

Those of a more scientific mind will see an incredible database that could advance the state of the art in medicine and science.

The sole reason for the existence of this data is to collect information to (re)trace people’s genetic lineage. Meanwhile, the data is stored securely by the business in question. This subject is always covered in the legal notices. For the issue remains critically important for potential test subjects.

Does French legislation prohibit DNA testing?

France takes a firm position on the subject of personal data. It remains strongly attached to bio-ethical laws that strictly govern the use of genetic testing. According to the legal code: “A person’s genetic characteristics may only be examined for the purposes of practicing medicine or carrying out scientific research.”

It is therefore clearly stated that no French companies can market their skills to exploit and study our DNA on a commercial basis. France has a very cautious approach to the topic. However, other countries are much less circumspect. In the United States, people are allowed to start a company to take advantage of this new business opportunity. But they can process the data of French people who want to learn more about their genetic heritage too.

Even closer to home, these companies are flourishing in countries such as Switzerland and Belgium. And besides, with a test costing around €80, anticipated profits are likely to be in the region of $25 billion in 2021.


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