The DNA test, which makes it possible to know more about the origins of one’s ancestors and one’s genetic heritage, is in vogue today. It also comes with other promises like knowing the risk of developing a serious or hereditary disease. First practiced only in pharmaceutical or research laboratories, it becomes more democratic with the population. Businesses and start-ups take advantage of this to launch themselves into this lucrative market for genetic testing using current communication methods. Advertising videos on social networks like Instagram or YouTube are proliferating where people are staged to discover their ancestors. Focus on this business, which is a hit, but which is the subject of much debate.
The idea of performing a DNA test runs through the minds of many French people to discover their ancestors and their genetic heritage, but also on the part of genealogists to facilitate their research. Nearly 56% of French people would like to perform a DNA test, according to a survey conducted in May last year by Généanet (French genealogy research site that offers a database fed by participants and intended for the general public, ed. Note) on a panel of 20,000 users. Generation Y, which includes all people born between 1980 and 2000, is the one who most wants to embark on this kind of process, that is, more than 85%. Nevertheless, nine out of ten respondents want these tests to be performed by a company from Europe and controlled under the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, editor’s note). For more than 40% of genealogists, these genetic analyzes are necessary to obtain cartographic data on migration. Of all the respondents, two out of three agree with the idea of approving this practice in France if it is monitored, including more than 86% among those under 25 years of age. Overview of this business that seduces the world.
A thriving business
To pay hundreds to thousands of dollars or euros to receive a collection kit with two cotton swabs and instructions for use, and then send it back to know its ancestors and its genetic heritage. More and more people around the world are doing it. This is due in part to the unimaginable collapse in the cost of sequencing. Where a decade ago it cost more than $ 100 million, anyone today can decipher a human genome for less than $ 1,000. In 2014 alone, the genetic testing market was already worth $ 20 billion. It was to be estimated at $ 25 billion a year in 2021. A real craze in the United States, it would be more than 1.5 million people who ordered a test from the company AncestryDNA during the last Black Friday. 12 million Americans used it in 2017, according to the newspaper Le Monde.
More companies in the US and Europe
Uncle Sam’s country is really the preferred country for this type of activity. Genetic testing companies have gone like mushrooms and highlight companies like 23andMe. She is the pioneer in this sector, where she offers DNA testing at home, from $ 99. Customers simply submit a saliva sample and receive information about their origin as well as details about their health, such as cancer risk. Practices that are not immune to some abuse and controversy, threatening user data. Last August, the company entered into a $ 300 million deal with pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline by selling the majority of the genetic data from its 5 million customers. On the side of the MyHeritage company based in Israel, the particularly sensitive data from 92 million of their customers was hacked in June 2018. In Belgium and Switzerland, start-ups Gene Plaza and iGENEA also offer the same solution as the previously mentioned companies. . Two services can be offered so that the customer can access genetic applications by importing DNA data produced by other companies or ordering a test kit.
Supervised practice, even banned in France
No French company offers this type of service. To ensure genetic data, the state has since the Bioethics Act of 2004 introduced strict frameworks regulated by the Civil Code and the Public Health Act. DNA tests can only be performed for medical, scientific and legal purposes. In the event that people decide to have tests taken or perform them themselves, they will be punished very severely with a fine of 3,750 euros for those who have requested them, and in case of a maximum penalty of one year in prison and 15,000 euro in fine for those who do. Punishments that do not seem to frighten the French. Nothing forbids them from performing DNA tests abroad, which explains the monopoly of American companies in this market. Despite the law, 100,000 of them have already taken a test, according to Guillaume de Morant, journalist, genealogist and author of a book on DNA entitled ” Finding your ancestors by DNA “. Genealogy forums like the Geneanet site show that more and more French people are performing their tests at foreign companies.
If the DNA industry is a hit, two camps of doctors and experts clash. Some believe that these are reliable scientific methods, while others remain skeptical of this kind of process, especially around tests to find out its origin. Marie Besse, professor of prehistoric archeology and anthropology at the University of Geneva declares that these tests are only a projection and in no case a vision of reality, a person’s origin can not be defined solely on the basis of DNA analysis. From an ethical point of view, some doctors are also concerned about this business, especially Dr. Sophie Julia, a geneticist at Toulouse University Hospital, who points out the companies’ lack of transparency, which does not indicate how DNA sequences are analyzed and used. , which questions the real value of the tests.