Companies' claims about DNA talent tests debated

by Julie Borg/WORLD , posted Wednesday, March 13, 2019 (one month ago)
Tags: DNAscience

CHINA (BP) -- DNA tests to check children for inborn talents are a burgeoning business in China and gaining popularity in the United States. But the genetic talent tests lack scientific accuracy and could psychologically harm children, some experts warn.

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Many parents in China hope to give their children an advantage in the country's competitive educational system by hiring biotech companies to perform genetic talent testing, MIT Technology Review recently reported.

One company, China Bioengineering Technology (CBT), lists more than 200 indicators it will assess, including physical talents, shyness, introversion, extroversion, and memory, along with musical, mathematical, and reading abilities. The $2,500 price tag for a full battery of tests doesn't seem to daunt many. "We get around a hundred or 200 parents testing each week," a CBT agent told the publication.

But experts warn the field of genetics is not so simple, and little, if any, scientific evidence supports the accuracy of DNA talent testing.

"The recommendations being made on the basis of these tests by many companies not only lack supportive evidence but in some cases are scientifically absurd," a group of bioethicists wrote in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences. Inaccurate results and parental misunderstanding could lead to harmful interventions, said the authors, an international group representing universities in Belgium, Canada, Switzerland and the United States.

Children who undergo testing may grow up misinformed about their genetic information and come to believe they lack a strength or ability. They might face subtle forms of stereotyping from parents, coaches, schools, peers and others based on a mistaken trust in test results.

"This could lead to disappointment or anxiety in children whose apparent genetic makeup fails to align with their (or their parents') existing interests or desires," the bioethicists wrote.

In the United States, companies such as Orig3n offer DNA profiles like the "Superhero" test, which can supposedly reveal innate strength, intelligence, and speed for only $29. The company also sells a child development profile for $99 that it claims assesses everything from fitness and natural abilities for language and learning to behavior and sleep needs. The website says the test can help parents determine if a child is just trying to avoid bedtime by claiming not to be tired or if their son or daughter is genetically wired to need less sleep. But in an investigation by WMAQ-TV in Chicago, Orig3n reportedly failed to detect that a sample came from a Labrador retriever, not a human.

In addition to concerns about accuracy and ethics, Christians considering nonmedical DNA testing should look to Scripture, not a genetic profile, to answer questions about who they -- and their children -- "really" are, said Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace.

"The Christian worldview tells us something about ourselves that modern DNA tests cannot," he wrote last year. "We trace our origin back to the same place, from the same parents, for the same purpose. Our inclinations toward selfish pride and ethnic division are, therefore, misguided."

Julie Borg writes for WORLD Digital, a division of WORLD Magazine (world.wng.org) based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.
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