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The Biosecurity Threats of DNA Testing

By Emma Ferraro

November 26, 2022

UPDATED 12:00 PM EST



[Photo credit: Medical News Today]


DNA testing is a common practice that people across the world use to find their long-lost family members, health concerns visible through DNA sequences, ancestry dating back millennia, etc. But there is a question of biosecurity and safety, presenting a harsh reality that couples with DNA testing. How do these tests really work, and are they a threat to individual security?


Many companies take part in DNA testing, some popular examples include Ancestry, MyHeritage, and 23&Me. All for different prices and with different benefits, these companies begin by having their consumers send a sample of their saliva to a laboratory. The scientists behind these companies look for changes in their chromosomes, proteins, and/or DNA, which each correspond to a particular disorder or genetic trait. These results are usually shown to consumers online, which are available typically within two months.


Although finding out about ancestral ties and susceptible disorders is a useful and great feat in the world of science and biotechnology, it does pose some serious biosecurity threats. For example, planting DNA testing results into online databases is another way for hackers to steal consumers’ information. It has been a problem where hackers steal DNA information and refuse to give it up if a sum of money is not paid. A hospital in Indiana, for example, had to pay $55,000 because hackers breached genetic data, refusing to give the information back without compensation.


There is also a great concern regarding medical insurance. If insurance companies get their hands on DNA testing results, they could react by raising their rates for those more susceptible to serious medical issues. People with these issues could also be denied loans that they would pay off later in life, as their genetic information makes it clear that they may not live to be very old.


The use of genetic testing is highly beneficial for many reasons. DNA tests have helped people find and reconnect with family members that they didn’t know existed, figure out where their ancestors were from, and understand their medical issues that can be treated early. However, there are inevitable cyber-biosecurity threats that tie into the practice. Consumers should be aware of the risks and rewards before they make the decision as to whether or not to do a DNA test.




References

Chen, Angela. "Why a DNA Data Breach is Much Worse Than a Credit Card Leak." The Verge, 6 June 2018, www.theverge.com/2018/6/6/17435166/myheritage-dna-breach-genetic-privacy-bioethics.

"DNA Testing Kits & The Security Risks in Digitized DNA." BleepingComputer, 7 Dec. 2018, www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/dna-testing-kits-and-the-security-risks-in-digitized-dna/.

"How is Genetic Testing Done?: MedlinePlus Genetics." MedlinePlus - Health Information from the National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/testing/procedure/.


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