Protecting our Saliva: Decoding AncestryDNA and 23andMe


Jessica Flohr Have you ever wondered about your ancestry or family history? Living in the era of DNA tests like 23andMe and AncestryDNA means that for a starting price of $99 you have the ability to learn about your ancestry, genes, and with an added cost, even related health statistics. But at what cost to your privacy? These kits make it easy, there is no blood required, only saliva. Simply follow the step by step instructions included and then send off your saliva sample in a prepaid package. In 6 to 8 weeks the analyzed nuclear DNA will come back to you, just like that. Similar to these kits, the junior class recently completed an exciting biology lab in which they sent saliva samples out to a private laboratory to have their mitochondrial DNA analyzed. The results were thrilling for some students as they found gene connections with their peers that they hadn’t thought would exist. For others, the results were underwhelming due to difficulties with the analyzation of the samples given. But the question remains, are there any privacy concerns with sending out DNA to private laboratories? Junior Hannah Davis explained that she “didn’t know what would happen” with her DNA samples after they were analyzed, partially because she “didn’t think to ask.” While the mitochondrial DNA analyzed in the junior biology lab does not provide much information, like Hannah, many juniors had not considered what their DNA could be used for after they had received their results. However, despite worries among some about privacy, the lab proved extremely beneficial, especially for junior Giselle Ayala. Giselle shared that “it wasn’t until [she] was comparing [her] DNA sequence to [her] classmates that it fully sunk in that despite the vast differences we think we have between each other, all humans are genetically incredibly similar” which demonstrates how valuable this lab and DNA testing as a whole can be. Since 23andMe and AncestryDNA analyze nuclear DNA there are more privacy concerns that come along with this process. It is hard to know what these companies might use the data for but, both companies address these privacy concerns on their websites, although consumers might not read through all of the details. Biology teacher, Ms. Merrell, shared that when she completed her 23andMe kit that there were lots of waivers and that participants do have the ability to prevent 23andMe from keeping their data to compare to other data compiled. But, in order to do so, it is necessary to opt out which requires reading the lengthy waivers that many chose to skim. Lily Townsend, a junior, explained that she often does “not read through the terms and conditions to things” and that this “has become fairly universal” especially in the age of technology.    Today many would agree to terms of service without reading the fine print. Users readily share thumbprints and face scans with Apple for the security of phones and other electronic devices. And many send in their DNA to 23andMe and AncestryDNA without knowing the full extent of what it will be used for, however, the ability to learn about family history and genetics might just outweigh the unknowns that come along with this process.   If you want to learn more about AncestryDNA or 23andMe you can read more on their websites! AncestryDNA: 23andME:]]>