I’ve never been particularly curious about my genetic background. We have a pretty clear family history that I’m of central European and Russian descent, with my ancestors coming over in groups between 1900 and 1938.
Recently, my mother decided she wanted more genetic information on us, so she paid $99 for us to send saliva samples to a company that advertises such services.
A few weeks went by. You read about people who find out they have a genetic background that’s quite surprising. I began to wonder: Would there be some giant family history shocker when the results came in?
Sadly, the whole thing was anticlimactic. My test showed I was … (drum roll, please) entirely of central European and Russian descent. So much for the dream of learning I was secretly a long-lost Mayan prince.
I’ve since spoken to others who had paid for this service and found most had the same experience. The test confirmed what was already well known, except for one friend whose results suggested a trace of Polynesian blood somewhere in his background. He believes this was likely artefactual, though he enjoys the idea that somewhere in history a Tongan warrior was blown off course at sea and somehow ended up in Odessa, Ukraine.
Of course, as I’ve now learned, that’s only the start of things. These days, I get emails advertising a more detailed panel (for an additional fee), looking for genetic markers for disease and more obscure traits. I also receive the occasional one from someone who, through the company’s anonymous servers, thinks they may be related to me.
I don’t answer either of those. I have no desire to expand my family circle beyond what it already is.
As for the disease testing? Not interested. Yes, some genetic tests may be helpful in making better choices, but the majority, at least to me, are still a work in progress. We deal with both false negatives and false positives in medicine. I routinely discourage my patients from spending money on unproven testing and treatments and have no desire to do the same myself. Maybe someday it will be worth the additional dollars, but I’m not convinced it’s there.
Money is, for better or worse, the driving force for all technologies, medical and otherwise. Maybe my $99 investment will help pay dividends down the road for someone, but today it only resulted in a shoulder shrug and chuckle at what I already knew.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.