DNA testing

DNA testing has gone beyond questions of mankind

With DNA testing expected to be worth a whopping £261 million by 2022, it is no surprise that a variety of sectors including ancestry, health and beauty, and dating all want in on the action.

The Guardian has taken a look at the lucrative rise of DNA testing and the increased desire from the consumer to discover more using their own genes.

For starters, ancestry has led to a boom in businesses specialising in DNA. Large firm AncestryDNA, recently announced that they had reached four million users on their database (a 25% increase from three months before), as well as 23andMe, which is part owned by Google. But SME owners are breaking new ground within the field.

Not only this, but I’m sure everyone can remember the moment that we, as a nation became gripped by Danny Dyer’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are last year, when he discovered he was related to King Edward III. But, for people like David Nicholson, revelations like that is the norm. He owns expert DNA testing company Living DNA, launched in 2016, and their latest consumer offering promises to give customers “twice the detail of other ancestry tests.”

The process is kicked off by issuing a one off payment fee of £120 for a swab kit that arrives and is returned via post. The results typically take between 8-12 weeks to arrive and come with a lifetime access to an online report. This is exactly what sets them apart from competitors, most only provide access while you are a paying subscriber. The main difference in the tests, Nicholson explains, is that more detailed results are provided that are more easily understood by customers.

He continues to explain that he’s not surprised by the rise in interest in DNA and says the relatively low cost of tests today have opened the science up to everyone. “The one question that societies through the ages always ask is what is our purpose: why are we here and how did we get there? Held within our DNA code is the history of humanity,” he said.

Furthermore, the increasing popularity of DNA testing has opened up a number of possibilities in both the beauty and fitness sectors, particularly when it comes to the personalisation of products.

Skin testing is also a popular activity; the UK skincare market is worth an estimated £465m in 2015. Dr Martin Stow, group CEO of GENEU, said, “Our research shows that skin ageing is 60% influenced by your genes and 40% by your lifestyle. After the test and a consultation, we prescribe personalised GENEU skincare serums to optimise and future proof the appearance of the customer’s skin.”

The possibilities seem endless, with genes already revealing how fast our skin is going to age; it stands to reason that they can also tell us how to exercise.

This concept has been brought forward by retired Olympic athlete, Andrew Steele, from DNAFit. The company offers genetic testing, available from £99, which uses a mouth swab sample to screen for gene variants. These are later evaluated to devise a personalised training plan.

“The tests tell people which foods they need and are intolerant to and also show what exercises best suit their body,” said Steele.

“DNAFit was created to take this level of genetic data out of the lab and was the first to really help people understand their genetic data in relation to their exercise or nutrition response. We created the market for what we do.”

However, although this does all sound very promising, we must ask the question: do these tests work? In order to prove that, DNAFit commissioned an independent study by the University of Central Lancashire, that did find an improvement among those who trained to their genetic strengths versus those on unmatched training programmes.

But scientist, Dr Helen Wallace has voiced her concerns regarding the commercialisation of DNA testing. She is the director of Gene Watch UK, a not-for-profit organisation that monitors developments in genetic technologies.

“Sciona began selling gene tests directly to customers in the Body Shop in 2001, with dietary advice. But those tests were exposed as misleading in 2002,” she commented. “As well as having a viable business model, the DNA-test-based product and service providers of the future will have to comply with regulations and maintain consumer trust. Consumers should be aware of the limitations of the tests and know that new regulations to check companies’ health claims are not yet in force.”

Before we conclude, I think it’s important for me to mention, just quickly that DNA testing isn’t able to find you your perfect partner just yet.

Wallace added, “Scientists have not been able to confirm any links between genes and behaviours or personality types, for example, so something like genetic matchmaking would have no scientific basis.”