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Home DNA testing keeps parents in the loop

Though the old nursery rhyme told us we were made of sugar and spice and snips and snails, we know it’s much more than that.

Our DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — has the blueprint of our lives. Short, tall, freckled, brown-eyed — it all begins with our DNA. And with the advent of home DNA kits, anyone can unlock at least a portion of that code.

A number of companies offer test kits, including 23andme,, National Geographic/Geno 2.0, FamilyTreeDNA, and more. Prices range from around $99 – $199, with additional costs for additional services. Tests can offer a wide range of information, with some companies offering the ability to connect with relatives.

Concerns about DNA testing through direct-to-consumer services include how the data is stored and used and more. None of the services is a substitute for detailed genetics testing or meeting with a physician or genetic counselor to discuss health issues.

Emily Drabant Conley is 23andme’s vice president of business development. She has a doctorate in neuroscience and spent 10 years conducting research that combined genetics and neuroimaging to understand neuropsychiatric disease. She is also expecting her first child. Conley said 23andme’s testing covers four key areas: carrier status, traits, ancestry and wellness reports.

“The first is carrier status testing,” Conley said. “These are for diseases that are genetically determined. All of the diseases are recessive. Both mom and dad need to be a carrier for their child to be at risk for the disease.”

Traits are explained in reports that reflect how DNA affects different characteristics.

“This can be fun to do during pregnancy,” Conley said. “We have a calculator where we can take my DNA and my partner’s DNA and predict eye color, for instance.”

Ancestry reports take genealogy to a new level, including a percentage breakdown of where recent ancestors came from.

“There is a lot of rich information we provide,” Conley said. “I found I have a little Jewish ancestry, which I didn’t know about.”

Wellness reports look at what genetics and environment say about wellness, Conley said.

One aspect of testing that became important to Conley personally was the ability to provide information to her doctor.

“Before I got pregnant, my doctor said we should screen for cystic fibrosis,” she said. “I printed out my results and took them to my doctor.”

Conley said DNA information can be helpful in situations when a parent’s health history is not available.

“Not all families are necessarily nuclear families,” she said.

Some services, including 23andme, offer the optional ability to connect with relatives.

“We look across the whole database, more than a million people, and we compare your DNA,” she said. “If you have identical elements of DNA, you have a common ancestor.”

Whether for curiosity, genealogy or as a way to open the door to discussing health concerns, DNA testing is more accessible than ever.

“In many ways, it can provide a road map for certain aspects of our health,” Conley said. “Over time, we are going to learn more and more. As that happens, it will help us make better choices and have better lives.”

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