Coming soon to a pharmacy near you: Over-the-counter genetic sequencing

Consumers may soon be able to purchase over-the-counter whole genetic sequencing (WGS) kits.

Image courtesy of Flickr user jurvetson.

Less than a decade after the human genome was first mapped in 2003, whole gene sequencing is rapidly becoming available to the public clinically and commercially.

Yet genetic sequencing is viewed controversially by many medical geneticists: where is the line drawn between knowing enough about your genetic makeup and knowing too much?

While certain actionable information such as a predisposition to cancer or heart disease may allow individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices, finding other genetic markers for non-preventable conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may pose greater psychological risk than benefit.

For that reason, many companies that offer whole gene sequencing will only map an individual’s genome at the request of a physician. Some companies do so because they believe genetic sequencing should only be performed in dire circumstances, such as making a diagnosis or prognosis in an ailing child, while other companies believe patients would be at risk of suffering psychological harm without the guidance of a doctor to explain the results of genetic sequencing.

Then there are other companies that believe individuals have the right to access their own genetic information at free will – with or without the assistance of a doctor. Direct-to-consumer genetics tests have come under fire by some experts because the tests only analyze a small number of specific points along a person’s genome, searching for genetic markers that indicate predispositions for diseases and medical conditions.

One such company that hopes to make whole gene sequencing available to the public is 23andMe, a company in Mountain View, Calif. In the future, predicts the author of the Time article “Test Your DNA for Diseases – No Doctor Required”, obtaining a 23andME test for one’s genetic information could be as easy as purchasing an over-the-counter pregnancy test.

Read the full Time article to learn about companies already offering whole genetic sequencing and to hear additional feedback on the pros and cons and commercial genetic sequencing