DNA testing was once considered somewhat of an awkward subject. Primarily associated with situations in which DNA had to be tested for off-putting reasons, (for example, paternity tests or crime scene testing) this form of technology has now more recently become a part of everyday life. Perhaps one of the more famous cases in which DNA testing services have been utilized recently is that of Joseph Deangelo, more famously known as the Golden State Killer or the Original Night Stalker. One of the more famous American serial killers discovered in recent history, Deangelo was known for murdering multiple people in the 1970s and 1980s. Though his DNA was kept on record, for decades there was no known connection between the Golden State Killer and any solid suspects. Shortly after Deangelo was arrested in 2018, it was revealed that law enforcement discovered a connection between Deangelo and the crimes in part due to the fact that a relative of his had submitted their DNA to a commercial DNA testing site. Though that relative was simply trying to take advantage of new DNA testing technology and perhaps explore their genetic history, their DNA was used by law enforcement to establish a solid connection between Deangelo and the murderer.
The advancements in new DNA testing technology, therefore, shouldn’t be regarded as straightforward. There are a number of different factors that can make a difference in DNA testing, and of course, a lot of the more commercial DNA testing services aren’t necessarily as reliable as those conducted by a medical-grade laboratory. With that being said, a lot of people are finding major advantages through the availability of commercial DNA testing. Being able to purchase a DNA test from a major big box store is much more convenient than going to a hospital or even an urgent care center. There are pros and cons to the issue, but ultimately, commercial DNA testing is here to stay. In fact, more than 26 million people have taken an ancestry test at home, and more options are going to become available over time. With that being said, let’s look into the different changes that have resulted in new DNA testing technology; as well as how it applies to people today.
1. Health Projections
New DNA testing technology has made a big difference in terms of how people trace their heritage. However, before we look into that, let’s focus on the health projections and information that we can gather from at-home DNA tests. It’s important to understand that nothing can replace a doctors appointment when it comes to understanding your personal health and what you may or may not need to worry about. With any DNA test, there is alway a potential margin for human error that needs to be considered. But nonetheless, there are a number of health risks that are encoded in your DNA. For example, a lot of people don’t understand exactly what puts them at risk for diseases like cancer; similarly, lots of people who develop diseases like diabetes actually haven’t done anything that would normally put them at risk for the disease. These risk factors are actually encoded into their DNA, and though you may not be able to do anything that would specifically stop a disease from occurring, understanding your risk ahead of time can inform your decisions.
Your doctors are already using DNA testing to understand your health risks. Being able to see what type of “warning signs” show themselves within your DNA can allow you to make important decisions in a more informed manner. Of course, DNA testing services allow us to be much more specific in our understanding of what is needed through diet and exercise to keep us healthy. While anyone can make a blanket statement of requiring less fat in their diet to stay healthy, the more specific you can become when addressing your dietary needs, the more effectively you can prevent long-term problems. DNA testing can test the health of your blood, as well as its “age”. But a lot of more commercial companies are utilizing DNA testing in order to help their clients plan. Even diet plans have been incorporating DNA testing to their planning, helping you tailor your needs and cut out foods that are bad for you. Some DNA kits are more specialized. Orig3n, for example, focuses on children and uses DNA technology to analyze specific areas of child development. Of course, a number of commercial DNA tests also highlight specific genetic markers. You may be able to understand through them whether or not you’re more at risk for diseases like cancer or diabetes. Whether or not you want to take advantages of these services is of course up to you, but it can make a big positive difference for a lot of people.
2. Early Detection Of A Disease’s Onset
It should also be noted that in some cases, new DNA testing technology has actually progressed to the point that people can detect a disease in its earliest onset. This obviously can be linked to the aforementioned genetic markers, which means that one of the more common diseases to detect at an early onset is of course cancer. The issue with many different types of cancer is not so much the detection of the disease itself, but when it is detected. Many cancers are quite treatable but can advance more quickly than people realize. The sooner a cancer is detected, the sooner a person can be treated and ideally have the cancer excised in its proverbial infancy.
Fortunately, new DNA testing technology may be able to help doctors recognize the early onset of cancer, allowing them to begin treatment earlier than they would in prior years. This is particularly important to the field of womens health, wherein a lot of diseases begin on a very basic cellular level. Potentially, women could have their DNA tested during a typical visit during the future, and would, therefore, be able to detect cancers before symptoms even began to show up. Right now, cancer is the second leading cause of death on a global scale. Therefore, utilizing new DNA testing technology to aid in the fight against it would be a major advancement in medicine.
3. Embryonic Testing
Having a baby is nerve-wracking for a number of reasons. Many people, especially those who have suffered from infertility, wait with bated breath for their babies to be born, never able to relax until the child is in the world. But even then, there are health problems that can crop up as the baby grows. While ultrasound technology has progressed to the point that many health issues can be detected before a baby is born, in some cases it can be incredibly difficult for doctors to tell what is happening until the baby is born, and even in some cases until it grows up to a point. While some familial genetic issues can be easier to predict, there are mutations that occur without any warning, or for that matter without any familial history. Fortunately, new DNA testing technology may allow us to more precisely test embryos in their early stages. This will be particularly effective for those who choose to take advantage of in vitro fertilization. Embryos with genetic flaws are already being ruled out before implantation during the implantation process, but in the future, doctors may be able to use DNA testing to create babies that are only sure to be physically healthy, but also have certain traits like a higher IQ or artistic skills.
Of course, this does bring up a lot of ethical questions. Already, there is controversy over how DNA testing and personal preferences have affected who is selected to donate sperm or eggs, as well as the extent to which it affects in vitro fertilization services today. Ethical questions will likely always be an issue when it comes to DNA testing. The issue that can come up in cases like these is that people will ultimately be selective to the point that science eliminates traits that are not actually flaws, but are simply less preferred by the people who can afford DNA testing and genetic selection. Nonetheless, it is almost impossible that people will not want to experiment with how DNA testing can affect the creation of new lives. Just as DNA testing has been used in the past to establish heritage, it will now be used to make life a lot easier in the future.
4. Crime Scene Technology
As previously mentioned, the discovery of the Golden State Killer was a major breakthrough that wouldn’t have been possible without the intervention of new DNA testing technology. However, it’s hardly the only case that has been aided through DNA testing. Crime scene investigators have been able to uncover a number of rapists and murderers through the use of DNA technology, and that is certainly not the only way through which DNA can make a huge difference. The issue that a number of different cases struggle with is that while circumstantial evidence can make a case seem like a sure thing, many jurors will want to see a stronger connection before they convict. This is why a lot of prosecutors need to see DNA evidence before they move forward with their cases.
But new DNA testing technology can also be used in different circumstances, specifically to exonerate people who never should have been convicted in the first place. Non-profit organizations like The Innocence Project have relied in part upon DNA testing to prove that convicted individuals in prison, sometimes even on death row, were actually innocent the entire time. Though obviously these convictions never should occur in the first place, having the ability to make a case for your innocence through science is incredibly important for these individuals. In many cases, cases wherein appeals were denied become much more difficult for judges to ignore or dismiss when DNA is arguing in a person’s favor. While memories and even supposed facts can be manipulated, it’s much more difficult to argue that DNA is lying or mistaken. This ultimately leads a lot of lawyers to request that DNA is not only tested but in some cases re-tested.
5. Establishing Familial Connections
Needless to say, DNA has long been associated with establishing connections between family members, most commonly in paternity tests. But that is not the only type of case in which DNA has proved valuable. A lot of people have been able to find long-lost relatives through DNA testing. At times, these people have been separated through something as adoption, and simply want to re-establish their familial rapport. However, others have used DNA testing to connect with siblings created through sperm or egg donation.
In cases involving the donation of genetic material, it’s not only important for people to be able to recognize whether or not they have genetic siblings or children; it’s also important as the use of sperm and egg donation banks grows. These companies often aren’t quite as regulated as they should be, which makes it crucial for people to be able to use DNA testing to understand the extent of their genetic family members.
Again, it’s inevitable that DNA testing will bring up a lot of new ethical conundrums. Furthermore, the advancements that have already been made in DNA testing technology are not going to stop where they are now. There will only be more progress as time passes, and right now there are still a lot of DNA samples residing in storage units that still need to be tested. Whether these have to do with crime scenes or simply answering questions that remain something of a mystery, as scientists move forward and study DNA further, they are only going to uncover more of a reason to experiment. DNA is ultimately the essence of what we are biologically, and it must be respected as such as it advances and opens up new doors to the future.