The Pitfalls of Genetic Testing

Genetic testing has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among African-Americans. But an article to be published in the journal Science is claiming genetic testing may be alluring, but does not provide an accurate picture of someone’s ancestral heritage.

Researchers are recommending that genetic testing facilities and associations put out disclaimers that clarify the limitations of genetic testsing. The authors of the study say a lot of Americans are attracted by the allure of finding out about their pasts, but blacks are more inclined to undergo genetic testing because they are part of the African Diaspora.

“This search for a homeland is particularly poignant for African Americans, who hope to recapture a history stolen by slavery,” the study’s authors said. 

That search is so poignant that a PBS documentary was devoted to the subject. The 2006 documentary, “African-American Lives,” allowed prominent African-Americans like Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey to trace their African heritage. But now, with the release of this study, those results could be called into question.

Limitations of Genetic Testing, according to study:

  • Most tests trace only a few of your ancestors and a small portion of your DNA.
  • Tests are unlikely to identify all of the groups or locations around the world where a test-taker’s relatives are found.
  • Tests may report false negatives or false positives
  • Limited sample databases mean test results are subject to misinterpretation
  • There is no clear connection between DNA and racial/ethnic identity
  • Tests cannot determine exactly where ancestors lived or what ethnic identity they held.

Relavant Links:  Atlanta Journal Constitution article on genetic testing and Fox News report on study’s findings.


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