Where is your DNA going? The pros and cons of purchasing DNA kits

Updated: Dec. 18, 2018 at 7:16 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Thousands of people walk the streets of Shreveport every single day — coming from different parts of the state, country, and even the world — and for some, they are trying to find just exactly who they are.

Melanie Curry was one of those people. She found herself looking to find out more about her biological father so she decided to purchase an AncestryDNA kit.

“It made me really curious and I wanted to always know,” said Curry.

Adopted at age three, Curry’s curiosity led her to find her biological parents, and now she wants to learn about her DNA.

“It’s just that one part that is missing that makes me curious, so I’m hoping that that’s the results that I’ll see like what else is there," she said.

But when you purchase direct-to-consumer DNA kits, you may not be considering where your DNA actually goes. Many are surprised to learn companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe don’t keep DNA private if you give consent for the companies to share it.

“You can actually opt out of having them keep your DNA,” said Mary Lowery-Nordberg. "Do they still keep it….it’s still up for grabs.

Nordberg is part of the genetic counseling staff at LSU Health Shreveport’s Feist Weiller Cancer Center. Se says these companies remove identifying information from your DNA if you give approval, and it could end up anywhere.

“So this data goes into public data bases not criminal data bases, not prison data bases but public data bases that anybody, I can search it, you can search it if you know what you’re looking for,” she said.

This caught the nation’s attention earlier this year, when California police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo — the alleged Golden State Killer — after using a public genealogy database to identify DeAngelo.

Nordberg says while a lot of people purchase these kits for fun, sometimes the answers they get are surprising.

“It’s like be careful what you ask for because you do sometimes uncover things that you don’t know," she said. "I mean suppose you’re Caucasian and you find out your American Indian. Or you think you’re American Indian or native American, and you’re not at all.”

And while some use it to find a long-lost family member, that too can bring challenges. Some kits also reveal information about your genetic health as well.

“Sometimes that data is beneficial so if you have the majority of the U.S. population who signed up to do ancestry.com and then you find out…oh my gosh these people who have these family histories of dementia have this certain gene then that becomes a target," said Nordberg.

Curry didn’t know her DNA she recently sent could be out there for the public to see, but unlike some she’s not that concerned.

“Hey, you don’t know where your DNA is now anyways so the information’s out there," she said. "Am I worried about anything eh not really.”

Knowing what she knows now, Curry says she would still purchase her kit, because so far her curiosity has led her to some pretty amazing things.

Below are links to the privacy statements for some of the common direct-to-consumer DNA kits

- Ancestry.com

- 23andMe

- MyHeritage.com

- Living DNA

- HomeDNA

- National Geographic Genographic Project

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