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Who owns your DNA?


I found this article fascinating. Who owns your genetic data after a home DNA test? It's a topic worth considering. Even if you don't send a DNA sample to the various companies like or 23 and Me, if a relative does, these companies have a portion of your DNA. The article linked above goes on to say, "Because genetic information is potentially useful to help cure disease, extend life, and improve science, we ask if you want to take part in research that may be conducted by third parties.” When customers consent, the company can send anonymized versions of their genetic data to “research partners” at both academic institutions and “for-profit research companies that are doing things like trying to understand if there are genetic markers related to longevity.” Despite the altruistic framing, the company is compensated for this material in some cases, offering it a source of profit in addition to the fee that it already charges for sample analysis."

If you want an example of how this type of testing could be used, check out The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This topic is rich for debate in the adult education classroom. Students can learn more about DNA and how it can be used. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Would yo use this in your classroom? If so, how?

I'm looking forward to your comments. 

Kathy Tracey






David J. Rosen's picture

Kathy, and others,

The story of Henrietta Lacks is also told in an engaging Radio Lab podcast, that is based on the "spellbinding" book you mentioned, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It is one of the most profound stories of our time because of its implications for science and  especially medical research, for the privacy issues you have raised, and the concern that the family of Henrietta Lacks was not consulted in the original and many subsequent decisions that were made in the use of her cells and DNA. 

This compelling story can engage teachers, and a wide range of learners. That it is available as a book, through the Radio Lab podcast, as a TV drama, that premiered in April of this year, and possibly in other ways, makes it especially accessible. I haven't looked, but perhaps there are even lesson plans for it. Anyone know?

David J. Rosen


Kathy_Tracey's picture


I wanted to circle back to this conversation as the idea of DNA privacy is again in the mainstream news. In case you missed the story, Californial's DNA database was used to identify an accused serial killer.   This story has again ignited the debate about who owns your DNA and what privacy rights you have to your own genetic markers. As we often discuss privacy rights with our students, what do we teach about using DNA testing websites? How can you use this story and information to teach students about DNA and forensic science? 

I'd love to see some ideas. 

Kathy Tracey