How Accurate are Direct-to-Consumer DNA Tests?

It isn’t just your imagination. It seems everywhere you look there is a new ancestry or DNA test with some unique niche beckoning customers to learn more about their genes. They promise to reveal how your genes affect your athletic performance, your food cravings, or your risk for certain diseases. For many, the new categories are too good to pass up.

And their strategy is working. The data shows that direct-to-consumer DNA tests are bringing in major bucks with projected revenue to top $22 billion by 2024.

Direct-to-consumer tests like 23andMe, Orig3n, Ancestry, LivingDNA and allow the customer to swab their cheek or spit into a tube at home and mail it to a processing center. The customer’s genetic breakdown arrives a few days or weeks later.

Seems pretty easy, right? Why would anyone go to a testing center when you can do it from the comfort of your own home?

Among many reasons, Carolyn Applegate, a certified genetic counselor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine cautions that direct-to-consumer tests are not the same as ordered genetic tests.

Take-at-home tests only test for a handful of genes in the 3 billion human genetic sequence. The genes tested for are hugely impact by lifestyle, environment, family history, and other factors, which generic tests don’t take into consideration. This means that some flagged genes could be harmless, or some problematic genes could be completely missed.

Further, in the journal Genetics in Medicine, a 2018 study of commercial DNA tests revealed that 40% of variants in raw data were false positives!

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