If you haven’t read about 23andMe yet, let me give you a quick description. For just $999, this Google-funded company will take a swab of your saliva and post it online, where you can see the breakdown of various traits and potential disease risks. Then, Facebook-style, you can compare your DNA strands with friends and family-members and decide who has the “prettiest” double helixes.
The primary purpose of 23andMe is to help fight and cure diseases. However, at the same time, it is minimizing the obvious risks of placing your personal blueprint on the Internet. Wow, I can compare my DNA with Jimmy Buffett? That’s awesome! Oh wait, someone could potentially steal my DNA, make hundreds of evil clones of me and take over the world? Oh no! (As egotistical as I am, I certainly do not want more than one Vitak on this planet, and I think most people would agree with me.)
I realize I am exaggerating the situation a bit, but as per usual, I am doing it to prove a point. We already put enough personal information on the Internet and look at the problems that causes. Do these people have any concern for the privacy of putting our DNA online? As much as I would love to know what diseases and other medical conditions I am at a risk of developing, I think I’ll pass on 23andMe for now. There’s also the obvious point of how this information could impact the quality of life of people who find out they risk developing a medical condition. Take colon cancer for example. Families that have a specific gene connected to colon cancer have a 90% chance of developing it. A North Carolina mother had her three children tested: all tested positive for the mutated gene and had subtotal colectomies in order to reduce their risk for cancer. I can understand this. But say you find out from your DNA results that you have a slightly increased risk of developing heart disease? Should you quit going to restaurants and turn vegan? I fear people participating with 23andMe will have such extreme reactions when they find out all the problems they could develop. It’s just human nature.
So don’t expect to see me joining any genetic social networking sites anytime soon. As long as I have the assembly-line-style cloning image from “Brave New World” stuck in my head, I think I’ll just keep that information to myself.