A closer look at consumer ancestral DNA tests

At the ASHG conference (which my colleagues had the pleasure of attending), there was a call for the many companies that now do ancestral DNA tests to take a closer look at the implications of such tests (behind a free subscription wall). There are many implications of this growing consumer product, health, accuracy and education being among them. And ASHG has created a set of recommendations for the purveyors (and consumers and educators) of these tests.

As the white father (with a Native American grandmother) of an adopted African-American daughter with a husband of Spanish-Mexican ancestry, it is one implication that struck me as particularly appropriate:

For some groups (some Native American tribes, for example), a major concern about scientific
efforts to explain origins is the apparent diminished regard for important cultural, religious,
social, historical and political processes that also inform group origin, membership, and identity,
and access to group rights.

This concern can be brought down to the level of individual families. We, as a family, celebrate our diverse heritage and  accept and honor each of our individual heritages as those that inform our entire family’s culture and heritage. That culture and heritage is informed by our genetics (and thus my own interest in these tests and genealogy), but also by our cultural, religious, social and historical foundatins. As someone deeply interested in geneology, history and genomics, and as an adoptive father, I understand that our ‘genetic’ origins, though important, are only a  part of the cultural, historical, religious and social foundations of what it is that makes up a family, much less a broader culture. Taking into account only genetic origins (especially given the accuracy, lack of breadth and preciseness of today’s tests) when speaking of our heritage and origins can be a mind field that needs to be addressed with education, thought and foresight. There is more to our heritage and origins than can be found in a genome test.

I’m glad ASHG is starting the dialog. (you can download the ASHG Ancestral DNA tests recommedations here)