Just a few years ago, DNA testing was a scientific pursuit — and a rather expensive one at that. But the technology has advanced and cheapened so much, that people routinely take genetic tests — millions do it every year. It’s indeed satisfying to know about our ancestry, heritage, fitness, health and a host of other factors. But do they make for good gifts?

The structure of the DNA double helix. The atoms in the structure are color-coded by element and the detailed structures of two base pairs are shown in the bottom right. Image credits: Zephyris / Wikipedia.

Studies have shown that genetic tests can also have some negative psychological effects. It is also important to understand that you are essentially giving up your personal data to a company, as well as the data of your lineage.

Of course, data privacy varies greatly between different companies. The best DNA testing kits give you the information that you seek without sharing this data with third parties, which goes a long way towards protecting your privacy. However, things are really not that simple.

What is DNA Testing

We all have DNA in our cells. No two individuals have the same DNA except for identical twins. Another mind-boggling observation is that 99.9 percent of our human DNA is identical — it’s the remaining 0.1 percent which really makes you who you are.

This DNA also reveals quite a lot about our body — one of the most ambitious scientific initiatives has been to map the human genome completely, which gave us an unprecedented understanding of human biology.

The private sector hasn’t remained idle, of course. Several companies quickly realized the potential of DNA testing. As the price got lower and lower, the business opportunity became more attractive. Nowadays, you don’t even need to leave your house — you just get a testing kit through the mail put some saliva or spit into a designated container and courier it back to the company.  It takes around 4-8 weeks to get the results.

This relative ease would have seemed incredible — but it’s exactly this that makes it extremely popular among most people. Companies also give incentives if you purchase several tests or if you refer someone else to do a test, which is how the whole gift DNA-testing began.

Types of DNA Tests and Their Applications

Generally speaking, there are three main types of DNA tests.

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Autosomal DNA Test

Autosomes are the common 22 chromosomes that we have in our body. The 23rd chromosome is the X or Y chromosome that determines our gender, X for female and Y for male. This is the most popular DNA test and has a number of applications mentioned below like Ancestry, Heritage, Fitness and Predisposition to Diseases that are mentioned below:

  • Ancestry

If you wish to know about your family members four to five generations before you were born, you can take a specific test called the Autosomal DNA test.

  • Heritage

The Autosomal DNA test will help you find out the geographical location of the world from which you have originated. It will also tell you in percentage terms the ethnicities you belong to. The best DNA testing kits will really help you find out a lot about your multiethnic heritage and even list them out in percentage terms.

  • Fitness Levels

You can also find out about your fitness levels and your affinity to physical activities like sports that will help you remain healthy and spirited.

  • Predisposition to Diseases

It will also tell you about your predisposition to diseases like heart disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes and the like so that you can take necessary precautions and make changes in your lifestyle to prevent them.

Mitochondrial DNA Tests

The mt- DNA tests or mitochondrial DNA tests are based on mitochondria that are the main energy-giving cells of the body. The most important fact about mitochondria is that we inherit them only from our mothers. Hence, they can be used to trace our matrilineal heritage. Simply put, it explains the inheritance of characteristics of your mother and her mother and so on among her immediate female family members. Continuing in this way, we can go back to the so-called mitochondrial Eve.

However, this test is used only to trace the matrilineal line which means it tells only about the mother and not about the father. The main advantage of this test is that it will help you find out a long-lost female relative. It could be your mother, aunt or sister.

Y-DNA Tests

Y chromosomes are the ones that are found only in men. Only sons get it from their fathers and this makes it patrilineal. The Y-DNA tests can be done only on men and are mainly used for paternity tests and can be useful in certain tricky situations like illegitimacy or adoption. It can also help you connect with people having the same surname as it follows the patrilineal progression.

Gifting issues

Especially if you have a science-loving someone in mind, a DNA test seems like the perfect gift — but that might not always be the case. The results of a DNA test might be an unwelcome sight for someone who is, say, very proud of a particular lineage — which might be disproven through the test.

Also, genetic tests have been shown to occasionally have a nocebo effect (nocebo being the opposite effect of the placebo). For instance, a predisposition to a certain disease or health condition (which isn’t a sentence by any means) can discourage people and cause them significant damage in the long run.

Probably the best thing you can do is ask before gifting and be considerate of the potential repercussions.

Conclusion

It’s amazing that this technology has developed so much that a genetic test, which was once a groundbreaking achievement, has become so common and affordable that you can just offer it to your loved ones. It’s certainly a unique gift and a potentially useful one — but you need to be a bit careful.

Gifting a DNA kit can be a surprisingly tricky situation and one which you might want to consider twice. You need to be extra careful when you are gifting it to your immediate family member as they share nearly half or your genes. All in all, the final call is yours.