Question 2: First Place

 

Excerpt from Heba Bhat's winning essay

 

 

[Direct to consumer] DTC genetic tests come in many shades, [from] BRCA testing for breast cancer to nutrigenomics, which is customizing an individual's diet based on their genetic information (Surbone, 2011; Godard, 2011). Companies like 23andMe promise a great deal on their websites "With a simple saliva sample we'll help you gain insight into your traits, from baldness to muscle performance. Discover risk factors for 95 diseases" (23andMe). Unfortunately, the general public is uneducated about the differences in the predictive abilities of tests for simple monogenic diseases (caused by a mutation in a single gene) like Huntington's Disease or Cystic Fibrosis and for complex polygenic diseases/conditions such as diabetes and obesity. In the case of the polygenic diseases, many genetic variants in multiple genes with varying and very small contributions to the disease need to be added up to get a predictive potential. Added to this is the fact that development of a complex disease is often the result of an interaction between genes and the environment. Thus, even if we know with certainty the contribution of genes involved in a particular disease/trait, it is hard to make a quantitative prediction of risk. [O]ne can predict [some single gene traits] correctly [most] of the time, but this is hard to do for type 2 diabetes despite the fact that a large number of the genes involved have been discovered (van Hoek, 2008; Janssens, 2010). Even if [DTC companies] can predict that you have the fast twitch muscle fiber, the bigger question is how the information can be utilized (Pinker, 2009). When a DTC company says you have a fourfold risk for baldness, it is talking about averages for a population rather than an individual ...