anthropology 61

Discussion: Personal Genomics

Initial post due by Friday, 3/6 at 11pm

Source: SMBC Comics (Links to an external site.)


Personal genomics, also known as Direct to Consumer (DTC) genetic testing, has been around for less than a decade but it has made a big impact. Now a multi-billion dollar industry, tracing genealogy is the second most popular hobby in America and the second most-visited online category. The industry developed from the Genographic Project, a five year research study launched in 2005 by National Geographic in a partnership with University of Arizona and Family Tree DNA, a private company. Within 5 years the company announced that it had sold 350,000 of its public participation testing kits. In 2007, another company, 23andMe, created a simplified, saliva based direct-to-consumer testing kit that could be mailed to those wanting to test their DNA. Consumers simply It was awarded “Invention of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2008. 23andMe and Ancestry are the two largest companies doing genetic testing today. By the end of 2019 it was estimated that over 30 million people had submitted their DNA sample to one of the four largest genetic testing companies and this number is projected to double annually as the growth of the industry continues.

As your Explorations textbook makes clear (chapter 3), consumers want genetic tests for two main reasons: heritage and health. Critics argue that there are limits to the tests ability to assess both of these things, as well as problems with how the companies present the results to consumers, and how the results are interpreted or understood by those consumers.

Start with this short lecture (by me!) in three segments about the science behind DTC genetic testing, The videos have captions if you need them!

Once you have finished listening to my lecture, I would like you to listen to two podcasts offering assessments of the pros and cons of consumer genetic testing.

The first podcast (Links to an external site.) is from Sapiens, an online anthropological blog and publication of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The discussion includes panelists Carl Zimmer (a science writer who has published widely on evolutionary topics), Deborah Bolnick, an anthropologist who studies genetics, and Kim TallBear, a Native American anthropologist and author of Native American DNA. The podcast’s page includes four additional articles you can look at for further reference if you like. This podcast is about 39 minutes long and a transcript of the podcast (Links to an external site.) is available.

The second podcast (Links to an external site.) is from the “Science Vs” series on Gimlet, a podcasting company with a wide variety of content. It features two authors of biological anthropology textbooks– Jonathan Marks teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has written widely on evolution and is the author of the second chapter of our Explorations textbook. The other discussant is Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and former editor of Nature. This podcast also includes a list of four reference articles you can access for more information. The podcast is about 33 minutes long and a transcript of the podcast (Links to an external site.) is available. The podcast is also available on Spotify. (Links to an external site.)

Initial Post

By Friday, March 6 at 11 PM, please post your initial post. In your discussion post, answer each the questions below in order. Please number each section as they are numbered below. Your initial post should be a minimum of 300 words. Please do not paste the questions into your post. When you are finished, place a word count at the bottom of your post that looks like this:

[374 Words]

Answer the following questions in your post:

    1. Do you know anyone who has had their DNA analyzed by 23andMe, Ancestry or another company? How did they feel about it? In your own words, explain why you think people are motivated to pay to have their DNA analyzed. After listening to the podcasts, would you be interested in testing your DNA? Why or why not?
    2. Explain two distinct criticisms of DTC testing as discussed by the experts in the podcasts. Pick the ones you think are the most important or interesting and pick one from each podcast. Be specific and detailed. Provide the name and criticism of the discussant for each critique you choose. What made you choose these criticisms? Do you agree or disagree with the argument made by the discussant?
    3. Identify an important piece of information about the science behind DTC genetic testing that you feel could have been added to or emphasized more in my lecture. How did this information help you to better understand personal genomics? Why do you think it was important and how should be added to (or expanded) in that lecture?

Helpful Hints

What is a substantive response?

It’s all about being specific. A substantive response is one that responds directly to the content of your peer’s response. Maybe you agree or can relate with what they’ve written. Write specifically how. Perhaps you have some pointers, or an additional experience you can relate that might be helpful for your peer.

Try not to just praise your classmate without any additional specific information.

Consider composing your response in a separate word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. It’s very easy to accidentally close a browser window and lose your work. This way you’ll have a record of everything you write for this class.

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